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.
Teamwork in the Dove Field
Find the Local Buffet
Noting dove food choices available in your area pays dividends when scouting fields. Freshly harvested grains like corn, wheat and millet are always top choices. Seeds of sunflower, safflower, sesame and smartweed also rate high. If grains and seeds aren't present look for freshly harvested hay fields with clover, alfalfa or lespedeza, or cattle feed lots. Pond banks provide fine grit doves use to fulfill digestive needs after feeding.
Doves travel to and from roosting sites to feed and water, so note the direction they fly when entering and exiting the field. Tree lines, waterways, roadways and utility lines—all are common flyways. Position hunters to take advantage of them.
Pick a Stand
Any stand that allows hunters to intercept birds as they enter/exit a field will see plenty of action, but shooters on the perimeter have the advantage. Shooters inside the field must settle for birds that have "flown the gauntlet" (frightened birds test the best shooting skills). Pick a stand as close as possible to two factors—water/feed, roosting site/flyway entrance, etc.
Depending on the size of the field, it could take several dozen hunters to keep the doves flying. Most shooting is conducted just outside the range of another hunter. Doves often swoop downward and become low-flying targets. Avoid shooting at low flyers. It's wise to wear not only ear but eye protection because pellets sent up must come down.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.