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Gut check time. Many of you folks went out during the last few years and spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on guns and gear. With a collective effort, you set the black rifle market on its ear and pushed sales and production to record levels. Gun shops and online dealers quickly ran out of AR-15 magazines soon to be followed by ammunition and AR parts and components.
Ammunition sales spiked and most every common caliber was picked clean from the shelves. Innumerable articles and forum posts popped up bemoaning the lack of availability of every type and style of handgun and rifle ammo. Those who hesitated were lost and began to complain about “hoarders” and griped at ammo companies for not making enough.
With the guns and ammo department handled, concerned citizens and self-proclaimed “preppers” turned to the online retail outlets and purchased backpacks, survival bags, load-bearing vests, plate-carriers, and innumerable tactical accessories. Major gear and clothing makers, such as Blackhawk, were soon out of stock in the boots and clothing departments. And…there is nothing wrong with that. You are an American, buy what you like.
As we move toward the end of 2014, we now have thousands upon thousands of American citizens who own a plethora of guns and gear. What have they done or are they doing with said gear? A small percentage have actually taken some live training classes to get comfortable with their newly purchased hardware. Some will go out to the local range and shoot their guns. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the vast majority have never even fired their new black rifles. Even fewer have taken the “tactical gear” they bought and gone out to the field to use it.
Before you break out the poisoned pen to write a nasty retort, if the aforementioned does not apply to you so be it, all the better. However, let’s face reality. I’ve personally encountered folks who admit to me that they have never zeroed their rifles or even taken much of the gear out of their houses. Sure, when the UPS truck arrived with their Crye Precision clothes or Danner boots they might have put them on to make sure they fit. They stood in front of the mirror played a kind of adult dress up game.
As a matter of course, I have taken great pleasure in taking my gear to the field. For many years, I took new guns to fields in pursuit of varmints, such as the marmot (groundhog). The wonderful aspect of hunting varmints is that there are few if any restrictions on caliber and capacity. We are discussing Free America, not Slave States.
200 lb Rats
Most recently, I was able to take an excursion to North Central Texas to engage some of the toughest creatures in North America, the feral hog. Our new friends at DRT Ammo had arranged a Swine Safari where we would test their ammunition on these stubborn creatures.
These “200-pound rats”, as my friend Mike Morgan likes to call them, are intelligent, resourceful and do a tremendous about of damage. Wild, or feral, hogs are tough, mean. If you get too close, their razor-sharp tusks can put a serious hurt on you.
These creatures are a non-native species and are taking over large areas of the Republic. Texas wildlife officials have estimated that the population increased from 1.5 million in 1990 to over 3 million in 2010. Conservative estimates in 2012 counted at least 2.6 million. Regardless, there is one thing for certain; Texas has a lot of wild hogs and the population needs to be thinned out.
As for the hunting experience, in the Lone Star State, you can kill hogs night and day, 24 hours/7 days a week. There are no caliber restrictions and you can indeed use suppressed rifles. Spot-lighting, night-vision, and thermal imagery are all a go. As we’ve discussed before on this forum, you can hunt them from helicopters as well.
A weekend-long hog hunt is a fantastic time to get out and test all of the gear. Yes, I mean your shiny new black rifle, 30 round magazines, plate-carrier with magazine pouches, backpack, etc. Zero your EOTech or Aimpoint optic and get ready to kill. If you bought a $59 red dot, this is a good time to see how long it will continue to operate and hold zero.
Don’t forget about your clothing and boots. If you want to know whether you bought quality gear or tacti-cool junk, take it to the field. A thousand yards into a stalk and you will realize very quickly whether or not your boot/sock combination was a good choice. Can you climb in and out of vehicles without your pants binding in the crotch or around the knees? Can you drop down into a kneeling position comfortably or do the clothes hamper your movement?
Backpacks or field packs should be able to take a great deal of abuse. Not only should the pack carry comfortably on your back, but you should be able to toss it in and out of the back of a truck without have the straps and handles tear off. Ditto the zippers. If a little bit of field dust wrecks the zipper, you have a piece of junk.
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The concrete shooting bench at your local range is a great place to check and ensure your rifle is zeroed. Once you have done that, there is little productive value to be had by sitting at a bench rest. Shooting one-inch groups off of sandbags or a specially designed rifle rest is nice, but that is not the real world. If you truly wish to challenge yourself and verify your skill you need to get out into the field.
A hunting opportunity, such as hog killing, puts you into unexpected and varied shooting positions. You may have to take fast shot standing as a hog breaks from cover and runs. Prone shots are great, but they are tough to pull off on uneven terrain. Hasty kneeling shots are better for stability. Perhaps you have shooting sticks available. That will be another way to challenge yourself.
Can you run the gun smoothly and efficiently under stress? Animals are not paper targets, they don’t stand still waiting for you to take the perfect shot. Do you have the skill to break a good shot in three or four seconds? Just as importantly, can you manipulate the gun’s safety and bring it on target before the animal trots off?
At the close of two to three-day hog safari, you should have some definitive answers to the aforementioned questions. Hopefully, if you have prepared yourself both from the skill and gear aspects, you will leave with a new found confidence in your equipment and, most importantly, yourself. Whatever the result, it is beneficial to leave the comfort of your little pond behind and face new challenges and experiences. That’s how we grow and that is what being a student of the gun is all about.
Paul G. Markel ©2014