Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Smoke Sticks

By Jason Parks – Guest Contributor

Smoke sticks, better known as black powder rifles or muzzle loader rifles, are a fun and challenging way to deer hunt. You can also hunt squirrel or dove hunt with a black powder shotgun if you want to diversify a little, or even hunt with black powder pistols.

For what is supposed to be a primitive weapon, black powder rifles have come a long way in the last decade. Now you have breach open rifles with shotgun primers, pyrodex pellets and sabot bullets. Granted you can reach out a lot farther with these rifles than you can with a traditional muzzle loader  but I am not a big fan of the new in-line muzzle loading rifles. I just like old guns I guess. I have considered upgrading to a flint lock but have never gotten around to it.

I assume that most of you know what a muzzle loader rifle is, but just in case, a muzzle loader is exactly what is sounds like: a rifle you load from the muzzle that is fired by an external hammer and primer cap. This is pretty much what every gun was before the invention of paper and cartridge ammunition and the new guns to shoot them. The more well known muzzle loaders in America are the Pennsylvania and Kentucky hunting rifles and the Springfield military rifles which were later converted to breech loader rifles.

My muzzle loader is a Thompson Center Renegade .54 caliber rifle. Why .54 caliber? It was on sale. Most in-line black powder rifles are .50 caliber as are most traditional muzzle loaders  However there are a lot of other calibers available in the traditional style muzzle loaders such as .36, .45, .58 and even .72 caliber.

To shoot a black powder rifle you need some supplies: powder (powder flask is optional), power measure, caps, patches, lubricant, bullets, ball starter and a cleaning kit. Most hunters have what is called a “possibles bag” that they use to carry a lot of this around in.

Loading and shooting a black powder rifle is fairly easy. The best way to learn how is to get someone who does it to show you. There are probably some YouTube videos you can watch. However you learn, I would like to encourage you to give it a try.

I would also like to encourage you to go the traditional route to help preserve the spirit of primitive hunting that in my opinion is lost when you use a modern in-line black powder rifle.

Here are some tips that I have learned through the years:

  • Make sure your rifle is empty before you load it. You can do that by popping a cap with the rifle pointed down range in a safe direction.
  • Fire a cap on an empty barrel to prep your rifle for loading by drying out the nipple. I like to add a little powder in the barrel to help dry out the barrel on damp mornings.
  • Another way to make sure your rifle is unloaded is to mark your ram rod to show “Empty”.
  • Mark your ram rod to show loaded as well. I have mine marked to show when the bullets seated all the way for different grain loads i.e 60 grains, 90 grains etc.
  • Some (maybe all) traditional black powder rifles (like mine shown) will probably shoot round balls more accurately than sabots compared to in-line muzzle loaders that will shoot sabots better than round balls. Mine does.
  • Never, ever stand over the barrel of your rifle when you pour in your powder especially after you have just shot it. Having a stray spark lighting up the powder while you are standing over the barrel will ruin your day.
  • Always use a powder measure. Never pour you powder straight into the barrel.
  • You need to lubricate the patch so that the patch and ball goes in easier. There are commercial lubricants available. I put the patch in my mouth and get it wet with saliva instead of using messy lubricants. It works. Unsanitary? Probably, but it hasn't killed me yet.
  • When you are ramming the bullet down the barrel, be sure not to grip the ram rod too high. You will most likely break the ram rod if you do. A grip about 6-12" above the barrel works best. Also you will eventually accidentally pull the rod too far out and will jab your hand with it so get ready for it. 
  • Always make sure your bullet is properly seated in the barrel, tight against the powder. When ramming your bullet in you will eventually get to a point where you do not have enough ram rod to grip properly. When you get to this point, take your ram rod, place it in the barrel, raise it about half the length of you barrel and throw it like a spear down the barrel. Do this multiple times. This basically taps the bullet into place with the momentum of the ram rod. When the bullet is seated, the ram rod will bounce.
  • If you fire the rifle and the cap pops but the rifle does not fire, KEEP THE MUZZLE POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION! Sometime the rifle will go off a second or three after you have pulled the trigger. I have had it happen to me several times and have seen it happen several more times.
  • If the rifle does not go off after about 10-15 seconds, replace the cap with the rifle pointed in a safe direction and try again. Wet weather and condensation is usually the culprit when this happens.
  • Keep your rifle's hammer in the half-cocked position while you are in your stand so that  if you happen to snag the hammer and it snaps down it will stay in half cock and you will not accidentally discharge the rifle. The half-cocked position of the hammer will keep the hammer from striking the cap and will not fire if the trigger is pulled. Basically, it is the "safety" of the black powder rifle. 
  • Never, ever carry your black powder rifle loaded with the hammer down on a cap. Snagging the hammer and snapping the cap with fire the gun. See the previous note.
  • Hard core black powder shooters clean their rifles after every shot. Muzzle loader rifles are dirty and that will affect your accuracy. I don't do that. I clean mine after about 8-10 shots or every 3-5 years whichever come first.
  • Lastly, I do want to encourage you to try hunting with a muzzle loader if you don’t already but I also want to encourage you to practice and hunt with someone who has experience with muzzle loaders until you get the hang of it.

That’s all I have on black powder rifles for now. As I finish this up today (October 19, 2012), muzzle loader season opens tomorrow and my truck is loaded and ready to go. I will see you all when I get back hopefully with a buck and if not, a lot of pictures.

Do you have any tips or lessons learned that you want to add to my list?


Check out www.BeretttaUSA.com and make sure you follow Beretta on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

You can follow Jason on Twitter @thejasonparks and on Instagram @jason_parks_brothers_farm 

This post and its contents are the views and opinions of the author only, and do not necessarily represent those of Beretta.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Duck Calling Techniques

By Brad Wilson - Guest Contributor

So we have talked about what to look for in a duck call, now it's time to figure out how to make this thing work!  Follow along for the very basic techniques that you need in order to be a better caller and in turn increase your chances of bringing the ducks into shooting range.

The very first thing I like to tell people that are wanting to learn how to blow a call is you need to understand how to hold your hands.  I put the middle of the call where the barrel and insert meet right in the "Y" of my pointer finger and thumb and then wrap those 2 fingers around the call.  I can then use my other 3 fingers and my other hand and fingers to control the back pressure that is needed when calling.  Back pressure can actually change the depth of the sound.

The next thing to understand is that you NEVER, EVER, EVER use the air in your cheeks to blow the call.  The air should come from deep down in your diaphragm.  If your cheeks are poking out like a blow fish when you are blowing a call then you are doing it WRONG!  Learn how to control the volume of air coming from your diaphragm and you can control how loud or soft the tone you produce is.  This is critical when you are trying to get birds to finish.

The last thing you need to know is sometimes it is better to just PUT THE CALLS DOWN!  Sometimes calling can actually deter ducks from committing.  This normally happens later in the season especially in heavily hunted areas.

4 calls you absolutely must know are the hail call, the feed call, a basic quack, and a whistle.  The whistle is something every duck hunter should carry in his bag.  I personally believe that a whistle can be more effective than a duck call in quite a few situations.  Some people say "tick" others say "cat".  I personally like "tank" when I am calling.
  1. Hail Call -  The hail call is something that should be used VERY sparingly.  The only time I will use a hail call is to initially get the attention of some birds that are passing in the distance.  My rule of thumb is if the birds look like they don't want anything to do with you then a hail call could work.  Do not use the hail call if the birds are within 1-200 yards or coming straight at you.  The call should be loud and long and then taper off in length and volume.  Example: taaaaaaaaaaaank, taaaaaaaank, taaaank, taaank, taank, tank, tank, tank.  I will do this once or twice and if the birds don't turn then I am wasting my time and chalk it up to the birds being on a mission that doesn't involve being shot by my Beretta A400 Xtreme.
  2. Feed Call - I use this quite a bit.  When birds are working I will use a combination of feed calls and quacks.  I use "taka, taka, taka" when I am running a feed call. I will increase and decrease the volume of air I put out as well as the back pressure I control with my hands. Example: takatakatakatakatakaTAKATAKATAKATAKATAKAtakatakataka.
  3. Basic Quack - These are just basic "tank..........tank....tank tank....tank" and used when birds seem to be committed.  If the birds are very committed I will do an occasional quack that is very faint just to keep them confident in the spread.  Again, using the basic quack in conjunction with the feed call can be hypnotic and deadly to unsuspecting birds.
  4. Whistle - A whistle can really seal the deal when you have birds working.  Mallards, pintail, teal, widgeon, and wood ducks can all be replicated with a simple duck whistle.  A good caller can even get a gadwall sound with a whistle.  Gadwall are very nasally though and this should be one of the advanced calls you should master after you have all the basics down.  When it comes to different whistle styles for different species your best bet is to search the web for sound clips of the different species.
These are the basics that I use in the blind along with some advanced calling that we will go over in the future.  If you can get these basics down then your chances of getting ducks to finish will multiply 10 fold on your next trip out to the blind.  If you have any questions feel free to comment or contact me at one of the links below.

Brad Wilson is an avid outdoorsman targeting waterfowl and saltwater fish and is a guest contributor for the Beretta Blog.  He can be reached on Twitter or YouTube.

Make sure you follow Beretta on FacebookTwitterYouTube.

This post and its contents are the views and opinions of the author only, and do not represent those of Beretta.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Here Birdie, Birdie!!!

By Brad Wilson - Guest Contributor

One of the most misused and abused items in a duck hunter's blind bag is the duck call (or kazoo depending on who's blowing it).  We have all heard it plenty of times, off in the distance that dreaded sound of "Barney" tooting his horn and the only thing on this planet it sounds good to is himself.  What "Barney doesn't understand is that many times less is more.

When to call is at the utmost priority when it comes to duck hunting.  Second in line is how to call closely followed by what to call with.  I am fortunate enough to have a good friend that is also a very well known call maker.  Here are some things to look for when you are trying to pick a call that is right for you.

  1. Know the basics of calling.  If you don't know how to properly blow a call then there is absolutely no sense of spending the money on a quality call.
  2. If at all possible, meet the call maker.  If you can't meet them personally then read some testimonies on the internet.  most call makers have a website or have been talked about on forums.
  3. Customer service!  Service after the sale should always be a phone call away.
  4. Find a call maker that is fairly local if at all possible.  This will help when you run into problems with your custom call.  If you ahve never owned a custom call, trust me when I say you will eventually need some help.
  5. Look for craftsmanship and attention to detail.  If a maker's "name" is Chang, Ching, or Chong then you are buying mass produced calls from China.  Don't settle for cheap imitations!

Pair this outstanding craftsmanship and customer service with a little bit of know how, and you too can improve your outcome in the duck blind.  Stay tuned for a future entry outlining some of the basics of duck calling.

Brad Wilson is an avid outdoorsman targeting waterfowl and saltwater fish and is a guest contributor for the Beretta Blog.  He can be reached on Twitter or YouTube.

Make sure you follow Beretta on FacebookTwitterYouTube.

This post and its contents are the views and opinions of the author only, and do not represent those of Beretta.