It’s not about what you’re carrying, it’s how you use it.

One of the most influential hunts of my life happened when I was twelve. It was so profound and the lesson so well etched in my psyche that not one hunting season in the past twenty three years has gone by that I’ve not thought about it before donning my gear and heading out for the first hunt of the season.

I remember being woken up early, so early it seemed that I had only just laid my head on my pillow. Dad shook me gently and told me to get dressed and come upstairs to get ready to go. I did, putting on my waffle thermals first and then a well worn pair of jeans, t-shirt and sweater before heading upstairs.  

The farm house was still dark except for the kitchen which was lit by a double fluorescent light fixture.  Dad had made a pot of stove top coffee and made toast which gave the room a rich cozy feel.  We quickly ate our toast and then bundled into our chore suits. I grabbed the trusty Remington 812, a single shot break action 12 gauge, a box of assorted challenger high brass shells and walked out into the chilly October morning.

Outside the old Ford was already running and warmed up. Despite only being twenty meters from the house getting into the truck it was a nice reprieve from what was probably a minus five or ten degree morning. With the old wooden goose decoys already loaded in the back we trundled up the driveway and down the road to the field that Dad had scouted the night before. 

The field was one of our own, a wheat field that had been swathed a few days before and where the geese where laying waste to the neat rows of the crop. We setup the decoys and hunkered down side by side in one of the swathes. Although I had done it several times before Dad coached and oversaw me load the gun in a safe manner. Once it was loaded we waited.

It seemed like forever that morning, waiting for the sun to come. Those who’ve seen it know that nothing beats watching the sun rise on a crisp prairie morning, the purples and pinks and growing light is something magical and hard to describe. Those who’ve seen it also know that when that sun is on the rise it is as cold and miserable as you are going to get until the suns warmth finally kicks in. But that morning I didn’t feel the cold I was to excited. As the light grew stronger on the horizon Dad hushed me and I heard the now all to familiar tell tale rapid whistle, “schwirr..schwirr…schwirr,” of fast beating wings.  We sat up in the swath and looked around and Dad pointed out a big brilliant green head mallard. It had bought the ruse of the goose decoys and was coming to take another look before deciding to feed. As it got closer I made the gun ready pulling the hammer back on the shotgun. The duck swung into range and I squeezed the trigger feeling the kick of it in my shoulder and its report in my ear simultaneously. Taking the gun from my shoulder I saw that I had hit the duck but only wounded it and I watched it limp away flying roughly through the sky disappearing in the dusk.

“Dammit John!” Dad said. “You wounded it, now it’s going to die somewhere out there. Only shoot at something if you know you can hit it and kill it.” The words were spoke without anger or malice, just a touch of disappointment. It was probably more regret for having wounded such a beautiful and tasty animal than my shoddy aim but in my mind I had commited some sort of unpardonable sin. We waited to see if anymore birds would show up but the frost on the decoys scared off every other flock that came through the area. We drove home empty handed but looking back its hard not to call it a successful hunt from the lesson I learned.

As I mentioned it’s been twenty three years since that fall and my desire to ensure as clean a kill as possible when I hunt is as strong now as it was instilled in me that day. That’s not to say I haven’t shot animals that ended up being wounded by chance; whether through sudden movements, jerking the trigger in excitement, improper bullet expansion or placement. Sometimes it just happens but the goal is to take every step possible is to avoid it like the plague.

So why do I bring this up and how does it relate to my journey to become a broke bespoke hunter? Well firstly it’s because I’m expecting a few of my new classic guns in the mail over the next few days and secondly because as the title suggests I believe it’s not about the gun your using it’s how you use it. If I had been using a pump gun when I fired at that duck all those years ago I would have had two more chances to knock it down and very likely would have. But the truth of the matter is I didn’t and I should have opted not to shoot. For the purpose of my blog, the rifles and shotguns that I am planning to purchase have similar limitations and considerations as that Remington 812 I started out with. 

If you’re still reading this and planning to try something similar but haven’t had a lot of exposure to firearms or hunting this is a critical point to understand. In regards to the rifles I want to buy, they won’t be topped with fancy scopes or chambered in big long range calibres capable of cleanly dropping animals at 300 plus yards. Or in the case of the shotguns, which will be single shots or double barrels, will only have one or two shots versus the three you get from a pump or semi-auto. Knowing your equipments capabilities as well as your own personal boundaries in operating it means that it is less important whether you’re carrying the latest gear or an older classic when you go hunting. This philosophy isn’t just applicable to an aspiring broke bespoke hunter it should be something every sportsman planning to go afield and harvest game strives for. Modern gear doesn’t absolve a person of this responsibility like some believe, in fact it may add more responsibilities. Hence my reason for a desire to return to a simpler style of hunting.

I hope you enjoyed the story and my musings. If you’ve already been out hunting I hope you’ve had a good harvest and if you’re about to head out I wish you success.

All the best and until next time.

John

The times they are a changin’

When I came up with the concept for The Broke Bespoke Hunter I was out on a walk with my eight month old son Owen. We had decided earlier that morning that we would head to the mall after his nap for a stroll, to get a birthday gift for my wife, people watch, and, maybe get a fancy coffee of some kind.

While we were walking through the mall I was surprised and honestly a little bewildered by how many people were wearing camouflage of some kind or another. I mean, I love bargain hunting like anyone else but to get dressed up in camo may be taking the concept a little to far.*

*I should state that I’ll wear camo when I’m out hunting but only then and never in public unless it’s to go into a gas station on my way to or from a hunt.

What I found so interesting was that it wasn’t limited to a specific gender or or age. Standing out in my mind was the young mom I saw pushing a stroller in camo leggings and man in his late fifties sitting on bench sporting a well worn Cabela’s sweatshirt. The Mossy Oak Break Up of the sweatshirt seemed so out of place next to the Aldo and Kernels that it made me wonder whether anyone who would wear camo in such a setting has ever actually put it to use in nature?  This got the gears turning in my head; if these people looked to hunting for their fashion cues maybe it was time for hunters to start dressing up a little more often! I’d like to think that besides the benefits of herd control, and conservation, hunting could save society from a future where Sitka Optifade Waterfowl is considered appropriate for a fine dining restaurant.

For the entire drive home I thought about what I had seen and how it would be a nice change of pace to get dressed up to go out hunting with classy firearm. Mind you not so classy a gun or so well dressed up to the point where I would be afraid to get a little dirt or blood on my gear, but enough so people would go, “wow, that guy looks pretty sharp.” When we arrived back at the house and the birthday gift was secreted away, Owen and I went down to my gun room* to continue to ponder what was fast becoming a storm of thoughts and ideas in my mind.

*Yes, I am lucky enought to have a designated gun room and it is a glorious thing filled with firearms, hunting gear and reloading related equipment.

In the gunroom, as I looked at the wall displaying my firearms, it was with a slightly torn heart, a one way conversation with Owen and a few encouraging texts from my dad that I decided to sell my tactical and target pieces to free up the funds to acquire what I would consider to be broke bespoke guns. By this I mean fancy older (1900-1970’s) guns that have been used but not abused, may have some minor cosmetic issues but do not prohibit their safe use, and, are relatively inexpensive so that someone starting out in hunting wouldn’t be afraid to spend the money on them. So the plan I developed is, I will list three of my current guns for sale in order to acquire ones that fit my new parameters and provide reviews of them as I use them. I’ve set my new purchase limit between $150 and $800 dollars per firearm. Some might criticize this as to broad a range, especially at the extremes of the budget, but it probably will encompass the majority of what people are comfortable spending.

Now a quick note before I go on, if you’re reading this and are already knowledgeable about guns and hunting I’m not saying that one can’t do broke bespoke hunting with modern firearms or that you shouldn’t buy a Savage Axis, Remington 783 or Ruger American. Most firearms manufacturers these day make great sub $500 budget hunting guns, just like those I listed. They will perform remarkably well and some instances likely a litttle better than anything I plan at looking to buy. But that’s not the point here. The idea is to do the business with classic wood styling and blued metal guns from the early twentieth century. There is, in my mind, something about composite stocks and gun designs that just doesn’t jive with what I want to get from this journey.

So what guns and in which calibres am I looking for? Here’s my list in no particular order which you can research at your leisure:

Rifles

Savage Model 99 – 300 savage or 308
Winchester Model 94 – 30-30

Marlin 336 – 30-30

Savage 340 – 30-30

Winchester Model 70 – 243

Mauser Model 98 – 7×57 or 257 Roberts (or Bob, Bobby as it is affectionately known)

Shotguns

Double barrels – in 12,16, 20 or 410 gauge. Side by Side’s (SxS) or Over Under’s (O/U)

Browning Auto 5

Remington 870

Browning BPS

Winchester Model 12

Ithaca Model 37

I’ll try to get the fanciest grade or model I can to keep with the theme of the project. Also as a heads up with time and after some use I may choose to trade some of them to acquire different models and do reviews on those as well.

Now that I’ve covered the guns I can speak a briefly about my plans for the clothing.

Buying new nicer clothes to take hunting doesn’t make sense and won’t fit in my budget. The firearms, and the ammo for them will almost assuredly use most of the funds I free up by selling my guns. So the plan is to go bargain hunting (not in camo) at the local thrift shops as well as undertaking some sewing projects for the things I can’t find or buy. All of it I will blog of course and  the sewing should be hilarious as the last time I did that was grade 10 home economics class.

I have in my heart and minds eye what I think a Broke Bespoke Hunter should wear and carry, once I start to acquire them I’ll post the pictures and stories to go with them. Please check in occasionally to see how things are progressing.

I’ll try write again soon.

All the best,

John