February 28, 2009

The Frugal Hunter

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:31 am by yjohn

Yes, I hunt. My family eats meat; and as far as I’m concerned if they are going to eat meat, it might as well either be wild or raised by myself so its the healthiest meat I can provide. Once you’ve decided to consume animal flesh, I believe it is morally better to kill it yourself than import a filthy third-world immigrant to kill a factory-farmed animal that may have never even seen sunshine. (I DO realize that some of our readers are vegetarians for either health or moral reasons — and I can respect that. If you fall in this category, the following article may not be your cup of tea!)

I’m not one those guys who likes to engage in elaborate self-deception by referring to what happens when I shoot an animal as “harvesting.” No — I harvest grain. I harvest tomatoes. But I kill animals. I have to be honest with myself about that. And I also have to be honest with myself about the fact that the plants I harvest are often killed in the process, and that plants are sentient, and so just as likely to feel pain as animals. (Sentience is measured on a scale from -70 to +50. On that scale, plants range from -2 to +2 and humans are about +13.) The fact that I am unable to understand and relate to potential pain in plants the way I can with animals makes it no less real to the plant.

But I accept this. Just as zebras kill plants and lions kill zebras; I fit somewhere in the natural scheme of things killing plants and animals alike — like a bear — as part of my own survival strategy. I do, however, try to be as humane as possible within my ability to understand. So I admit I take more care in inflicting the minimum amount of pain and fear in animals as opposed to plants because of the limits of my understanding of plant emotions and sensations. I don’t feel guilty about the fact that I use the lives of other things to survive, but I don’t see myself as necessarily the top of the food chain either. In the blink of an eye I could be an Ebola virus’s idea of a tasty supper.

That having been said, let me get to the “meat” of the matter. I hunt, and I hunt with inexpensive firearms. I’d like to share with you my experiences with these. For some folks, guns are like a religion; so it’s almost impossible not to cross somebody’s pet peeve. I’m a big fan of guns myself, so I understand!

Anyway, even though I raise a certain amount of my own free-range and grass-fed meat, I supplement that through hunting. Specifically, I hunt squirrel and deer. Depending on the rules for the locations where I am hunting I hunt squirrel with a Ruger 10/22 or a single-shot 20-gauge shotgun.

The shotgun was a gift from my father when I turned 13, and was what I used to kill my first squirrel under an aging American Chestnut tree that had somehow escaped the chestnut blight out back of my grandfather’s farm. The shotgun has a very tight pattern, and I always aim just a couple of inches to the side of the squirrel’s head away from the body so that no stray shot ends up in the meat. I found a used shotgun just like it — same brand and everything, in a gun store a couple of years ago. It was selling for $90. Clearly this isn’t a terribly expensive shotgun, but it has never let me down. I also like its safety features. You have to manually cock the hammer, and when you do, it automatically sets the safety which must be manually disengaged before the trigger will operate. Undoubtedly, this was also something that impressed my father as making it a good choice for a 13-year-old. I’m a lot older now, but still appreciate the safety features.

The 10/22 was purchased used for $125 about a decade ago. I got it for its ease in mounting a suitable scope and its 10-round semi-automatic repeating ability. There was a certain place where a ridge overlooked a ravine full of squirrels jumping tree-to-tree; and I anticipated getting into a nice comfortable spot on the ground where I could be a very steady shot, and getting my bag-limit of squirrels from that one spot in short order. The distance was too great for the shotgun, so the Ruger 10/22 was just the ticket.

I use three rifles for deer hunting: a Marlin model 336 30-30, a sporterized SKS and a Mosin Nagant 91/30. My father gave me the Marlin when I was 14. It sports an excellent scope and is very light and handy — an excellent rifle for the east coast where shots at over 100 yards are rare. Like the shotgun my dad gave me, it has solid safety features.

The SKS was acquired back during the first Bush administration. I really picked it up because it was cheap ($90 at the time) and looked really interesting. I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with it until I had modified it extensively. Since then, it has been a work in progress and now bears a long-eye-relief scout scope, a customized sling system, free-floated barrel and a custom trigger-job that is as smooth as glass that I learned how to do myself. Now it shoots every bit as good as the Marlin which is more than adequate for the distances that I encounter deer in my area.

The Mosin Nagant was acquired a couple of years ago for $80. It shoots the 7.62x54R cartridge that is ballistically similar to the .308; so it is more than enough gun for the deer around here. I did a trigger job on it to smooth out the trigger and installed a set-screw to limit trigger creep, and replaced the wooden stock with a synthetic. Equipped with a click-adjustable peep sight from Mojo Sighting Systems, it shoots 2″ groups at 100 yards. Nice! The only downside is this particular model is rather long and a tad unwieldy.

One thing I did to all of these rifles is modify them as needed to mount a sling system similar to what is used in NRA Highpower competition. Why? Because I was a high power competitor for many years (you shoot at 200, 300 and 600 yards with peep sights), and I am absolutely convinced that proper sling usage combined with marksmanship basics like trigger squeeze and breath control is the key to accuracy in the hunting field. In my view, I have an ethical duty as a hunter to do everything possible to assure the cleanest and most painless kill possible on game; and a sling is part of that.

This little trip down memory lane is probably getting boring, so let me cut to the chase of why I wrote this article. I wrote it to demonstrate that you can use military surplus, inexpensive and used rifles and shotguns effectively in the hunting field. Some of them will require a bit of modification to shoot their best; but most are passable right off the rack as long as you limit their magazine capacity to whatever your state requires in a hunting rifle.

It’s easy to open up Guns and Ammo magazine and believe that an adequate hunting rifle has to set you back $1000 or more. No doubt, these very expensive rifles are very fine tools and worth every penny. I have one or two myself for high power competition, and they are truly works of mechanical joy. So I certainly won’t deride these fine instruments. But, at the same time, they aren’t at all necessary for hunting.

There’s a dirty little secret out there about rifle accuracy; and it is hardly ever mentioned in the pages of magazines where expensive firearms are advertised, and that is the fact that most people are horrible marksmen. They don’t have even the basics down. They flinch and jerk, or actually close their eyes when they pull the trigger in anticipation of recoil. They haven’t the slightest clue how to work with their breathing to steady their sights, and they have no idea how to line up their bones for the steadiest shot. Along with this, most folks haven’t the foggiest notion beyond the so-called “hasty sling” how to properly use a sling to make a rifle rock-solid. All the sub-one-inch and sub-two-inch groups you see in magazines were fired from a steady bench with the rifle on an adjustable sandbag. When you put a fine instrument like that in the hands of someone who really doesn’t understand the basics of marksmanship, it is no more accurate in practical application than the cheapest most worn out rifle you can buy.

A man with an $80 rifle and serious marksmanship knowledge is just as accurate in the field as a person with a much more expensive rifle and less knowledge.

So what I am getting at is that you shouldn’t assume that you have to spend a fortune in order to be properly equipped as a hunter. All you need is a basic military surplus rifle in good shape with some easily performed modifications and a commitment to learn. If you don’t hone your marksmanship skills, all the money in the world won’t bag you a deer.

If you shop around, you can still get a single-shot .410 or 20 gauge shotgun for $100 and you can get an excellent deer rifle, complete with ammo, for $150. President Obama told us recently that things will get worse before they get better. Well — for those willing to consider it, during tough times learning to hunt can make a big difference in the family budget.

So get yourself a rifle, take a hunter safety course, get your hunting license, practice your marksmanship, and either find a mentor or read a couple of books on hunting in your local library. The cost will be small, and the skills will safeguard your family’s protein supply for many years to come.

February 16, 2009

Cold Storage of Onions

Posted in food storage tagged , at 5:43 pm by yjohn

First let me say that I love onions. Whether I’m making a rich bean stew or homemade ketchup, onions are the single indispensable ingredient that is required across the board. So it should be no surprise that I grow quite a few onions every year and store them for my culinary use.

It’s just about time for me to start the seeds indoors for my next batch of onions, which I’ll be planting out in April. In considering this, I thought some tips regarding proper cold storage of onions might be in order.

Don’t harvest onions prematurely. Onions are ready when the leaves have turned yellow and fallen over, but not before.

Choose a nice sunny day to harvest, and pull up the onions in the morning. Lay them out on a flat dry board in the sun for the day. Choose a light-colored board, incidentally. I use one that I painted white. If you use a dark-colored board, it will absorb too much heat and cook your onions!

Once the onions have cured in the sun, cut off the tops and store in a mesh bag (for good air circulation) in an area with minimal light, temperatures below 60 degrees and low humidity.

One thing you want to avoid is storing onions in a place where they might be exposed to freezing temperatures.

What not to do when storing onions

What not to do when storing onions

As you can see from the picture, the bag of onions on the left has sprouted whereas the bag of onions on the right is intact. What is the difference? The bag on the left was exposed to below-freezing temperatures in the garage for about a week whereas the bag on the right was not.

These “bags” incidentally are made from the legs of my wife’s old (but thoroughly cleaned) pantyhose. They give the onions excellent support without any spots of high pressure (that could cause them to go bad) while allowing plentiful air circulation. I can’t speak as to whether pantyhose makes sense as an article of clothing — I’d rather leave that determination to the people who actually use the product. But as bags for storing onions, they are peerless and inexpensive.