It was getting late in the mid-January afternoon and buck tags filled in years past told me the rut was in full swing in southeast Alabama. When the magic hour hit, a doe emerged from the far tree line as if shooed out on cue by nature's stagehand. By the way she was acting, I knew that a buck wouldn't be far behind. Even at 300 yards, I didn't need to raise my binocular to know he was a shooter. He was a trophy, not due to inches of horn, but because he was a wise, habitually nocturnal old warrior who was only showing his face because biology demanded it.
It wasn't a short shot, but I knew the rifle and I knew the load. I'd carefully chosen the bullet, the brass, the primer and the powder. I'd experimented with all four and found the best balance of accuracy and velocity before painstakingly assembling the cartridge in a small batch at my bench. Even before I pressed the trigger, I knew the outcome.
I'd learned to handload rifle and handgun cartridges when I was in high school. I quickly determined that I could feed my pistol-shooting habit far more prosperously on my dime store paycheck by scrounging brass and loading my own. A few years later I started hunting big game and became mildly obsessed with rifle accuracy and bullet performance—it was with one of my own handloads that I took my first whitetail and many since.
Unless you've just been roused from a five-year nap, you are undoubtedly aware that centerfire ammunition has increased in both price and scarcity. A box of premium .300 Winchester Magnum ammo runs nearly $50 for 20 rounds but at least you can probably find it on store shelves. But what if you're going varmint hunting and are looking for a case of .223? Good luck with that.
Though handloading definitely saves dollars, it's not the only reason you should consider it. The ability to have a sustainable supply of ammunition through marketplace shortages like the one we've witnessed lately is another good reason; a modest supply of powder and primers and the ability to cast one's own bullets can keep you shooting through the lean times. Handloads can also help maximize the accuracy potential of your firearm by allowing you to assemble component combinations or cartridge dimensions that are unavailable via mass production. Though today's factory ammunition offers the best and most diverse lineup that hunters and shooters have ever seen, there's still a limit to what you can buy off the shelf.
Best of all, for me, is the satisfaction of having done it myself. When I put venison on my family's table, knowing I shot it with a rifle that I assembled, using a cartridge that I loaded by hand, over a field that I planted, I can't help but feel good. And it's hard to put a price on that.
How to Think Like a Rabbit
by J. Scott Olmsted,
Editor in Chief
Rabbit fur provides poor insulating qualities.
So think about it: Where would you escape the cold if all you had was a light jacket? Check briar patches and fruit brambles that offer shelter from the wind while remaining open to the warm rays of the January sun.
When hunting thick cover look for their eyes,
not their brown fur, to spot rabbits. A rabbit's shiny, round, dark eyes stand out against the monochromatic gray tones of the places it calls home like a dime on a cow pie.
Anyone who's hunted them knows rabbits are nervous critters, likely to bolt before they need to in the face of danger. When you enter a briar patch walk slowly, then stop, look and listen for about a minute. Then repeat. Your movement will likely flush a bunny from its hide. If not, the silent treatment should convince the critter it's been spotted and it'll make a run for it.
Contrary to popular belief,
rabbits don't exactly run in circles when chased by dogs. They do, however, tend to run within their range. If your beagle jumps a rabbit stand and wait—the dog will chase the rabbit back within shooting range.
Use an improved cylinder choke and No. 6 or 7 1/2 loads
to provide a wide, sufficiently heavy pattern without excessively damaging meat when hunting alone. Beagles push rabbits farther afield; switch to a modified or even a full choke and No. 4 or 6 loads when hunting with them.
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