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HUNT FOR BIG SALMON By Craig Boddington

 

HUNT FOR BIG SALMON

 

The first story I got paid ‘cash money’ for was a fishing story, published in the old Fur-Fish-Game magazine. For those who study ancient history, it was about fishing for grayling on Alaska’s Tanana River, back when I was a very young Marine lieutenant attending the Army’s mountain warfare school at Fort Greeley. I received $35 for it!

Coming into Black Gold just at sundown, a welcome harbor.
Coming into Black Gold just at sundown, a welcome harbor.

Since then there have been very few fishing stories under my by-line. In truth I’m not much of an angler. And certainly not an expert angler. However, there are exceptions…at least in interest, if not expertise. I just got back from sort of an annual hunting—er, fishing—trip with my buddy Jim Rough at his Black Gold Lodge at Rivers Inlet, British Columbia, on the mainland northeast of the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

 

Jim’s a serious, experienced, and well-traveled hunter, and I met him through hunting, at one of the major conventions. Hunting is his passion but, as a proprietor of Black Gold since 1988, salmon fishing is his business. So, while mooching along, lines in the water, we talk mostly about hunting…while we hunt for big salmon.

Jim Rough ties into a nice coho salmon—although not nearly so large as the chinooks, pound for pound they fight even harder.
Jim Rough ties into a nice coho salmon—although not nearly so large as the chinooks, pound for pound they fight even harder.

Yes, they’re down there, somewhere in that cold water, and the job is to find them. It’s impossible to know exactly where, but we troll long-known hotspots with shore and off-shore structure: Cranston, the Dome, Rough’s Bluff, the Wall, maybe Bull, Cow, or Calf Islands. We play with the depth and the weight, and of course we mess with the bait, usually herring, double-hooked to get just the right roll, and we work the tides.

: You never know what you might see at Rivers Inlet. Marine mammals are common, but this young grizzly bear was caught at low tide scavenging along the kelp line.
: You never know what you might see at Rivers Inlet. Marine mammals are common, but this young grizzly bear was caught at low tide scavenging along the kelp line.

Salmon Tournament

Some years ago, Jim got the crazy idea to hold a salmon tournament with a combination of fishing and hunting trips as prizes. It must have worked—and I must like it—because this event was just past our 10th Annual Craig Boddington Salmon Fishing Tournament. The where for big salmon is tricky…but so is the when. It’s a short season up there, July into September, but typically late July sees a good run of big salmon, returning from the depths of the Pacific…but exactly when varies.

Honestly, this year the fishing for big salmon was slow during the tournament, picking up fast just as soon as it ended. Sort of like timing the peak of the whitetail rut: “You should have been here last week…wish you could stay until next week.” Even at the slowest, there are some big fish around, but it takes luck, patience, and persistence. This year, the swells were a bit rough, and Jim and I had just gotten to a drop-off near the Wall, 40 pulls down with herring and a ten-ounce weight, when a fish hit, gently at first…and then the line bent double. We fought for an hour, maneuvering to keep out of kelp, maintaining pressure, losing line, reel screaming when the fish ran, gaining some back, losing more, arms and shoulders on fire, we finally got him in, at 45 pounds my best salmon to date.

It wasn’t even the biggest in the area, either. There’s skill involved in spotting and stalking big salmon, but there’s at least a bit of luck in getting them in the boat…and it’s not going to happen every time. I claim no expertise in anything fishing-related, but after a decade of hunting big salmon I’m better at it than I used to be…and you still won’t boat them all. Two years ago. we had a much bigger fish all the way to the boat. The fish was right there, Jim had the net…and then the line broke. We saw him clearly, surely a 60-pounder, gone. A big fish like that might take you from one side of the inlet to the other and back, boats scattering to give room. Anything can go wrong: Hook thrown, tangled in kelp, too much drag…or too little. And sometimes, like the big fish I just caught, everything goes perfectly.

Chinook please

Speaking of the English and we Americans, Churchill said we are “one people divided by a common language.” This is also true of Americans and Canadians. Up there, the big salmon we hunt are called Chinook; we know them as kings. Aggravating the language barrier, up there a chinook of 30 pounds or more is called a “tyee.” Catching one yields a special cap and a pin…and your name on the “Tyee Club” board for the rest of the season. I’ve made that board several times…but definitely not every year. A 30-pound salmon is a big fish and a worthy adversary. You know my biggest (so far), and I’ve admitted to the one that got away. I’ve seen bigger salmon come into the lodge; hooking them takes luck, but boating them takes luck and skill. I’ve noticed that most of the bigger fish are taken by anglers with more patience, persistence, and experience than I can claim.

Black Gold is actually a floating village, big logs anchored to shore. It rests in this sheltered cove only during the short July-September fishing season, and is towed to and from winter harbor in between.
Black Gold is actually a floating village, big logs anchored to shore. It rests in this sheltered cove only during the short July-September fishing season, and is towed to and from winter harbor in between.

Black Gold

We love to eat salmon, and at Black Gold they’re filleted, vacuum-packed, frozen, and beautifully boxed for the trip home. A big chinook is the prize, but as uncertain as a big whitetail, so we spend part of our time fishing for the “other” salmon. We call them “silver,” but in Canada-speak they’re coho. We tend to fish for them in deeper channels, not always deeper, but with lighter weights. Pound for pound, I think the cohos fight harder than the chinooks, and certainly jump more. We catch a lot of cohos in the ten-pound class, a marvelous eating fish—and they get bigger, occasionally over 20 pounds.

Barbless hooks are an awesome conservation measure, but because of their acrobatics I think we lose more cohos than chinooks. On the other hand, we catch more of them, and often a pink salmon will be caught. Fishing is fishing; sometimes we go for long hours without a strike…and sometimes, often along a tide line at slack tide, the action is almost too fast and furious, and you never know what you might see. Rivers Inlet is a paradise for marine mammals: Whales, usually hump-backs; black-and-white orcas (also hunting salmon); seals and sea lions; occasionally dolphins or porpoises. Sea otters, once rarely seen, have moved into the area and are now frequently encountered. The shoreline is gorgeous, typically a rocky beach line with primeval conifer forest above. We see lots of eagles along the shore, occasionally deer and grizzly bears.

: Rivers Inlet is a paradise for marine mammals. Whales and orcas are usually seen, and some of the rocky islands are favorite hauling-out places for seals and sea lions.
: Rivers Inlet is a paradise for marine mammals. Whales and orcas are usually seen, and some of the rocky islands are favorite hauling-out places for seals and sea lions.

Rivers Inlet is a magical place, with several lodges tucked into the myriad inlets and channels. The lodges vary in the number of “rating *s” they might receive, but Black Gold is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. There are no permanent structures on the shore. Instead, Black Gold is a floating village, towed into place by two ocean-going tugboats when the ice breaks up in June, anchored for the short season and then, in September, towed to a safe winter harbor a few dozen miles up Rivers Inlet. Yep, has running water, all the amenities, and choice of “lodge” accommodations or self-catering. It’s comfortable rather than fancy, but for a few days a year it’s been home for more than a decade.

 

After 30 years the organization is excellent, but just getting there is an adventure. To Vancouver, then to the South Terminal across the runway, where Pacific Coastal runs scheduled flights to Port Hardy, northern tip of the island. Then a half-hour float-plane trip across the sound to Rivers Inlet and Black Gold. That last short flight is gorgeous, and I’m always amazed at how well it works…but weather (in summer, especially fog) can be an issue.

The “class photo” of our 10th annual Craig Boddington Salmon Fishing Tournament at Black Gold. The prizes are hunting and fishing trips, including opportunities in Africa and New Zealand as well as Canada and the U.S.
The “class photo” of our 10th annual Craig Boddington Salmon Fishing Tournament at Black Gold. The prizes are hunting and fishing trips, including opportunities in Africa and New Zealand as well as Canada and the U.S.

Every year I hope to hook into a really big salmon. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not…and sometimes I get them to the boat (and sometimes not), but I’ve never failed to catch fish. I look forward to taking home a box of tasty salmon, usually with some ling cod, perhaps a halibut, and savoring them throughout the year. But here’s what I look forward to the most: Black Gold rests on a network of huge floating logs, securely anchored to shore in a sheltered cove. That gentle rocking motion offers the best sleep I’ve ever known!

.204 RUGER: THE BEST VARMINT CARTRIDGE? By Craig Boddington

It was a perfect setup for prairie dogs; we had a big shade tree to our left, three of us in line on portable benches, with a big colony stretching away before us. Stephen Shen was on the left, Gordon Marsh in the middle, me on the right. Interestingly, all three of us were shooting the .204 Ruger cartridge: Stephen a Savage 116, while both Gordon and I were shooting Ruger No. Ones, his in blue/walnut and mine stainless/laminate.

Left to right: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Hornet,
The .17s run from very fast to “medium” and all are useful but, in common, the light .17-caliber bullets hold up poorly in wind. Left to right: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .17 Hornet,

It wasn’t universal; Bill Green was off the right, popping away and having a ball with a semi-auto .17 HMR . This was Gordon and Bill’s annual prairie dog shoot out of Cheyenne, hunting with Craig Oceanak and Nick of Timberline Outfitters. It was my second shoot with them; for Stephen, CEO of Vector Optics, his first ever. We had other rifles, .223s and .22-250s. However, except for Bill, who clung to his .17 HMR and walked in some amazing shots, the .204s did the majority of the work.  There are many excellent varmint cartridges, so it struck me as unusual that three among our foursome were shooting .204s…but I think we made good choices.

The various .22 centerfires are the classic varmint cartridges—but only a few have become popular. Left to right: .22 Hornet (1930); .222 Remington (1950); ,220-250 (1965); .220 Swift (1935); .223 WSSM (2002).
The various .22 centerfires are the classic varmint cartridges—but only a few have become popular. Left to right: .22 Hornet (1930); .222 Remington (1950); ,220-250 (1965); .220 Swift (1935); .223 WSSM (2002).

When I say “varmint cartridge” I’m thinking rodents that eat grass and dig burrows, and thus cause problems for farmers and ranchers. Woodchucks in the East; prairie dogs, rock-chucks, ground squirrels and gophers in the West. Developing cartridges and rifles for this class of pest is primarily an American phenomenon, and we’ve been doing it for a long time.

The .204 Ruger is readily adaptable to the AR action and is chambered by numerous manufacturers. This super-accurate AR in .204 Ruger was made by MGA in Spring, Texas.
The .204 Ruger is readily adaptable to the AR action and is chambered by numerous manufacturers. This super-accurate AR in .204 Ruger was made by MGA in Spring, Texas.

The requirements are simple: Accuracy, range, and minimal recoil. Accuracy because we’re dealing with small targets. A ‘chuck is comparatively large, but an upright prairie dog is only a couple inches across. A “one-MOA” rifle is thus a 200-yard prairie dog gun. One-half MOA is really the starting point. Ranging capability does depend on how you go about it. The rim-fires are great fun for short-range work…and stalking the edges and shooting from field positions with center-fires is excellent training. But if you set up from deliberate shooting positions and try to reach out several hundred yards, fast, flat-shooting cartridges are essential.

My Ruger No. One .204 Ruger in stainless and laminate regularly turns in half-inch group with both 32 and 40-grain loads. Although a bit slower, I prefer the 40-grain load because the heavier bullet holds up better in wind.
My Ruger No. One .204 Ruger in stainless and laminate regularly turns in half-inch group with both 32 and 40-grain loads. Although a bit slower, I prefer the 40-grain load because the heavier bullet holds up better in wind.

In a big ‘dog town you might shoot steadily all day, with numerous breaks to cool and clean barrels. When I was a kid, I did a lot of prairie-dogging with a .264 Winchester Magnum—but it’s silly to take that much pounding. The 6mms and .25s remain excellent crossover cartridges: Varmints with lighter bullets, big game with heavier bullets. Power is not an issue; at close range the .22 LR is plenty good for the job.

We all have our favorites, but without question these are the three most popular centerfire varmint cartridges, all made by numerous manufacturers and readily available: Left to right: .223 Remington, .204 Ruger, .22-250 Remington
We all have our favorites, but without question these are the three most popular centerfire varmint cartridges, all made by numerous manufacturers and readily available: Left to right: .223 Remington, .204 Ruger, .22-250 Remington

However, the biggest problem with cartridges above the .22 center-fires is even that modest amount of recoil makes it impossible to call shots through the scope. This is especially important in the windy West. As range and wind effect increase, not every shot will hit. The ideal situation is to observe the strike through the scope and correct. You can’t do this while you’re lost in recoil! I’ve often said that prairie dogs are great teachers, both for precise shot placement and for calling wind. The buddy system works, taking turns spotting and shooting—but you’ll learn more if you can call shots through the scope and make your own corrections.

Velocity is important in a versatile varmint cartridge, but extreme speed isn’t everything! Few factory loads break 4000 fps, mostly with lighter bullets. Left to right, these are most of the modern 4000 fps merchants: .17 Remington (25 gr.); 204 Ruger (34 gr.); .22-250 (40 gr.); .223 WSSM (40 gr.); 220 Swift (40 gr.); .243 Winchester (55 gr.).
Velocity is important in a versatile varmint cartridge, but extreme speed isn’t everything! Few factory loads break 4000 fps, mostly with lighter bullets. Left to right, these are most of the modern 4000 fps merchants: .17 Remington (25 gr.); 204 Ruger (34 gr.); .22-250 (40 gr.); .223 WSSM (40 gr.); 220 Swift (40 gr.); .243 Winchester (55 gr.).

We have multiple choices, and the arguments for one cartridge versus another are actually pretty thin. The little .22 Hornet, introduced in 1930, was probably the first center-fire intended for varminting. It retains a following and I love it—but with modest velocity it’s limited in range. Introduced in 1935, the .220 Swift was the first commercial cartridge to break 4000 fps—and it’s still among few that do. Accurate as well as fast, the Swift still has fans, but for many years the .22-250 has been the most popular fast .22 center fire.

Gordon Marsh marks a prairie dog for Stephen Shen. Spotting for your buddies is half the fun of a prairie dog shoot, but the learning curve is steeper if you can call your shots through the scope. The .204 Ruger allows this; the fastest .22 centerfires have a bit too much recoil.:

In the 1930s there were several wildcats based on the .250 Savage case necked down to .224-inch. The most common was a 1937 version called “.22 Varminter,” legitimized by Remington in 1965 as the .22-250 Remington. The .22-250 isn’t as fast as the Swift, but close, and is very accurate. Other fast .22s have included the .224 Weatherby Magnum, .225 Winchester, and .223 WSSM, but the .22-250 is today’s preferred long-range varmint cartridge.

Wholesale Hunter’s Gordon Marsh on the bench with his Ruger No. One in .204 Ruger. A great varmint rifle isn’t just the action and cartridge! Also needed is a good, clear scope with plenty of magnification and a sweet trigger. Marsh modified this Ruger with a crisp, light Jard trigger
Wholesale Hunter’s Gordon Marsh on the bench with his Ruger No. One in .204 Ruger. A great varmint rifle isn’t just the action and cartridge! Also needed is a good, clear scope with plenty of magnification and a sweet trigger. Marsh modified this Ruger with a crisp, light Jard trigger

If there’s a problem with the .22-250, it’s simply that, unless gun weight is fairly extreme, there’s just too much recoil to call shots through the scope. So, over the years, many of us have consciously sacrificed velocity and range and used milder .22 center-fires. Developed by Remington’s Mike Walker as a bench-rest cartridge back in 1950, the mild and super-accurate .222 Remington filled this niche perfectly. Its lack of popularity today is coincidental. In the late 1950s the U.S. Army was looking for a smaller-caliber military cartridge. The .222 Remington didn’t have quite the velocity they wanted, so the .222 Remington Magnum was created with a longer case. It wasn’t popular as a civilian cartridge and wasn’t adopted by the military, losing out to the .223 Remington.

: I like to spend at least part of my time in a prairie dog town shooting from field positions. Misses increase, but the training is invaluable! Here, I’m shooting sitting with the .204 over a tall bipod
: I like to spend at least part of my time in a prairie dog town shooting from field positions. Misses increase, but the training is invaluable! Here, I’m shooting sitting with the .204 over a tall bipod

The .223 (5.56x45mm) is also based on the .222 Remington, with a lengthened case and shorter neck. We could argue that the .222 Remington is the more accurate cartridge, and the .222 Remington Magnum is faster. But what’s the point? As our military (and NATO) cartridge, the .223 Remington/5.56x45mm is today’s most popular center-fire cartridge, and it’s a marvelous varmint cartridge.

Vector Optics’ Stephen Shen on a portable bench with his Savage 116 in .204 Ruger, of course with a Vector high-range variable scope. Inexpensive, accurate, and with a great trigger, Savage offers several variations of excellent heavy-barreled varmint rifles.
Vector Optics’ Stephen Shen on a portable bench with his Savage 116 in .204 Ruger, of course with a Vector high-range variable scope. Inexpensive, accurate, and with a great trigger, Savage offers several variations of excellent heavy-barreled varmint rifles.

With a 55-grain bullet at about 3300 fps it’s effective on small varmints to at least 300 yards, and even in a fairly light-barreled rifle it’s mild enough to call shots through the scope. New contenders such as the .22 Nosler and Federal’s .224 Valkyrie will also run through the AR15 platform and offer more velocity. We could also argue that they are “better” cartridges…but it remains to be seen if they can approach the .223’s popularity.

Stephen Shen of Vector Optics, Boddington, and Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter on a fine Wyoming morning with a huge prairie dog town stretching away behind us! All three of us used the .204 Ruger as our primary rifles, in my opinion one of our very best varmint cartridges.
Stephen Shen of Vector Optics, Boddington, and Gordon Marsh of Wholesale Hunter on a fine Wyoming morning with a huge prairie dog town stretching away behind us! All three of us used the .204 Ruger as our primary rifles, in my opinion one of our very best varmint cartridges.

Australian fox hunters created .17-caliber center-fires because the light bullet wouldn’t exit, thus minimizing pelt damage. In 1971 Remington necked down the .222 Remington Magnum to create the .17 Remington, a 4000 fps-cartridge with bullets up to 25 grains. The .17s are useful, and today we have choices, from rim-fires up through the .17 Hornet, .17 Remington Fireball, and the granddaddy .17 Remington. Accuracy can be astounding and there’s plenty of power for prairie dogs and such, although I question the milder .17s on coyotes. The big problem: The .17-caliber’s light bullets just don’t hold up in wind!

 

The .20-calibers, bullet diameter .204-inch, are a recent development, spawned by good old American wildcatters in the 1990s. There are a number of wildcat and proprietary .20-caliber cartridges, but the .204 Ruger is the only factory .20-caliber. Introduced in 2004 as a joint project between Hornady and Ruger, the .204 is based on the .222 Remington Magnum case.

 

The theory is to split the difference between the .17s and .22 center-fires…and the actual result, to me, offers the best of all worlds. Again, we’re talking the specialized world of varmint cartridges. The .20-caliber doesn’t offer the heavy-bullet flexibility of the .22 center-fires for larger game. They are certainly effective on fur-bearers up to coyotes, but don’t minimize pelt damage like the .17s. Also, the faster .17s are prone to rapid fouling; the .20s are not.

 

The .204 Ruger took off fast. All major manufacturers load it, with bullet weights from 24 to 45 grains. At about 34 grains and lighter the .204 Ruger reaches or exceeds 4000 fps. I’m not usually quick to pick up on a new cartridge—especially in an unfamiliar bullet diameter! My usual mantra is (grumble, grumble): “We’ve got enough calibers and cartridges!” A Ruger No. One in .204, stainless and laminate in heavy-barrel configuration, came in as a test rifle. I was impressed enough to buy it and, nearly 15 years later, it remains my go-to prairie dog rifle.

Here’s what I like about the .204: Accuracy is consistently good with all loads. My preference is the 40-grain load, not the fastest at 3900 fps, but with that heavier bullet it holds up in wind better than the faster, lighter bullets. More importantly, it seems to perform about as well as the .22-250 at similar velocities with varmint bullets from 50 to 55 grains. Most important: With the lighter bullet and heavier barrel (smaller bore equals more steel for equal barrel diameter) it has less recoil than a .22-250, so I can easily call shots through the scope.

 

Requirements for an ideal varmint cartridge are simple: Accuracy, velocity, shoot-ability. If I had to cut down to just one, it’s the .204 I’d hang onto!

Great optics from Zeiss – Craig Boddington

I’m probably not the first person who came up with this, but I’ve long called it Boddington’s First Rule of Optics: You get what you pay for! Sport optics is a very competitive field; there are reasons why Optic A is priced twice (or three times!) as high as Optic B. These reasons include quality of glass, construction, and coatings; and customer service. Now, I’d be the first to say that not every person or application really needs the highest quality.

On arrival at elevation in Nepal the first order of business was to check zero (0113), using a .300 barrel with Victory 3-12x56mm scope. That’s outfitter Mahesh Busnyat holding the target: One shot, good enough, ready to go hunting.
On arrival at elevation in Nepal the first order of business was to check zero (0113), using a .300 barrel with Victory 3-12x56mm scope. That’s outfitter Mahesh Busnyat holding the target: One shot, good enough, ready to go hunting.

Also, and this is important, as you move up and down the scales in optical quality, the differences are subtle. No sales hype can possibly explain the value in the price differential. And, guess what, in a brick-and-mortar gun shop—you can pick up one optic after another and compare, but it’s difficult to really see the difference.

After a lifetime of messing with this stuff I’m convinced the differences are there. Now, there’s no question that, just like anything else, some prestigious brands command higher prices. Back to my First Rule, I believe there are sound reasons why those brands are considered “premium!” As to what are the “best” optics, I won’t take that bait! There are great optics, and a lot of really good middle-priced glass, so good that, again, it’s hard to tell the difference, and plenty good enough for most shooters in most applications. I think most of us could agree that top premium optics include classic European brands such as Leica, Swarovski, and Zeiss. In the way these things shift back and forth, all three have been sponsors of TV shows I’ve been involved in, so I’ve used them all a lot.

I’ve used a lot of other good optics as well. In the weird world of “outdoor TV” we are obligated to use our sponsors’ products, in my writing and on personal hunts; I try not to play favorites! So I have been perfectly satisfied with a wide array of optics. No one can possibly have even passing familiarity with all brands…but one name I’m extremely familiar with is Zeiss.

Carl Zeiss opened shop in Jena, Germany in 1846. They’ve been building binoculars since 1893, rifle-scopes since 1904, and variable power rifle-scopes since 1922. The anti-reflective “T” coating was a 1935 Zeiss innovation that increased light transmission by 50 percent! Today, Zeiss Group is a huge company manufacturing lenses and products with lenses for wide applications: Vision care, photography, microscopes, telescopes, medical applications ,and  more. Zeiss Sport Optics, though important to us and a leader in our field, is a fairly small division.

Top of the line, Zeiss products are marketed under the Victory banner. Like many larger manufacturers, they also offer optics lines at medium price points. For some years this has been the Conquest line. Conquest is  good, Victory is better. Victory should be better because the price differential is significant. I’ve used both lines quite a bit and have been very happy. There are differences, but you have to look pretty hard. Whether the differences are worth the extra cost depends altogether on what you’re doing, and your budget.

The Blaser R8 was introduced in 2009. In the spring of 2010, I was going to Nepal’s Himalayas, then to Romania to hunt European brown bear. It seemed to me a switch-barrel rifle would be perfect for such diverse situations, so I got a Blaser R8 with .300 and .338 barrels. I put a Victory 3.5-10x50mm scope on the .338; and a Victory 3-12x56mm scope, with the Rapid Z 800 range-compensating reticle. As one might (and should!) expect, both scopes were clear and bright, and the adjustments were perfect and perfectly repeatable. Once zeroed, neither has ever changed!

In 2010 I set up a Blaser R8 with a .338 Blaser Magnum barrel, left, and 3-10x50mm Victory; and a .300 Blaser Magnum barrel, right, with 3-12x56mm Victory. The .300 saw its first use in Nepal’s Himalayas; the .338 on a bear hunt in Romania on the way home.
In 2010 I set up a Blaser R8 with a .338 Blaser Magnum barrel, left, and 3-10x50mm Victory; and a .300 Blaser Magnum barrel, right, with 3-12x56mm Victory. The .300 saw its first use in Nepal’s Himalayas; the .338 on a bear hunt in Romania on the way home.

Nepal is sort of a post-graduate mountain hunt; very high, steep, and completely on foot. I did my homework, verifying reticle hash-marks to much farther than I intend to shoot. In the event I drew two difficult shots. The Himalayan tahr was 465 yards, the blue sheep a bit over 500. Both times I had a stiff crosswind, but I read it right and the shots worked. Now, honest, I am not steadfastly faithful to any rifle, cartridge, or scope, but with an inaugural experience like that, both the Blaser and the Victory 3-12×56 scope became a stand-by for mountain hunts.

This excellent Himalayan blue sheep was taken in Nepal with a .300 Blaser Magnum barrel mounted with a Victory 3-12x56mm scope, distance about 515 yards. Both this scope and the Zeiss 10x45 RF binoculars became a favorite combo for mountain hunting.
This excellent Himalayan blue sheep was taken in Nepal with a .300 Blaser Magnum barrel mounted with a Victory 3-12x56mm scope, distance about 515 yards. Both this scope and the Zeiss 10×45 RF binoculars became a favorite combo for mountain hunting.

That scope is a good example of the principle that magnification is over-rated! In the scope world today, 12X isn’t all that strong, but optical clarity counts for more, and it’s amazingly clear. I’ve had other scopes on that Blaser, and the 3-12X Victory has been on other rifles. In 2010 the 3-10x50mm Victory performed perfectly on a nice European grizzly in diminishing light. Since then I’ve moved it back and forth to other rifles (and Blaser barrels), it has also seen a lot of use. That same year, 2010, I got really lucky and won a Zeiss 10x45mm RF range-finding binocular. So, until 2018, I frequently paired this binocular with one of these Victory scopes. Mind you, in that period I also used various rifles with other scopes; including Zeiss Conquest scopes with one inch tubes. They weren’t Victory (nor are they supposed to be), but I always found them to be pretty good glass!

This Eurasian brown bear was taken in Romania in 2010 with a Blaser R8 and .338 Blaser Magnum barrel, topped with a Zeiss Victory 3-10x50mm scope.
This Eurasian brown bear was taken in Romania in 2010 with a Blaser R8 and .338 Blaser Magnum barrel, topped with a Zeiss Victory 3-10x50mm scope.

In 2018 Zeiss revamped their line dramatically. The one-inch Conquest scopes are gone, replaced by two Conquest lines with 30mm tubes: V4 and V6, the former with four-times-zoom, the latter with six-times-zoom. There are six V4 models and three V6, both pretty much covering the spectrum from dangerous game to long range. The Victory line has also been revamped. New is the Victory V8 with eight-times-zoom! There are four V8 Victory rifle-scopes, all with 36mm tubes, ranging from 1-8x30mm to 4.8-35x60mm.

The binocular line was similarly updated, with three tiers or price points. Terra, the entry-level Zeiss binocular, Conquest in the middle, and Victory the top of the line. Of a particular interest to me, the 10×45 RF range-finding binocular has been replaced with four new RF binoculars, including on-board ballistics calculators that interface with the new Zeiss Hunting app.

These are sweeping changes, with product still working through the pipeline. I knew nothing until summer of ’18, when I had a chance to see some of the new product. Problem was I was only a month away from a major hunt in Mongolia. It’s fun to try new stuff, but it’s also a bit scary; your gut tells you to stick with tried and true stuff. But, it’s part of the job, and, after all, the label was Zeiss.

Zeiss’s Kyle Brown loaned me a Conquest V4 4-16x50mm scope. I am not an extreme-range shooter on game, so I figured the 4-16X would be all I needed…and it’s a nice-sized scope. He was also kind enough to let me use a 10-42 RF binocular. My 10×45 RF is awesome, but it’s a bit heavy; the new 10×42 RF shaves a few ounces and some bulk…and it has the Bluetooth interface

On steel targets I verified aiming point in the Conquest’s ZBR-2 reticle out to 800 yards, and did the same by dialing the turret. The 4-16x50mm scope tracked perfectly, but in Mongolia no shots were beyond 325 yards so I used the reticle.
On steel targets I verified aiming point in the Conquest’s ZBR-2 reticle out to 800 yards, and did the same by dialing the turret. The 4-16x50mm scope tracked perfectly, but in Mongolia no shots were beyond 325 yards so I used the reticle.

So, I mounted the new Conquest scope in a Blaser saddle mount, loaded the free Zeiss Hunting app onto my I-phone, and repaired to the range. (Fortunately, I have good cell coverage there!) I’d be using a .300 Weatherby Magnum barrel with Hornady 200-grain ELD-X. It was simple to put the data into the app. However, the Zeiss hunting app updates for atmospherics: Altitude, barometric pressure, temperature. Thing is, there may not be cell coverage in the middle of nowhere. No problem; I built my ballistics chart based on anticipated altitudes and average temperatures. I verified the hash-marks on the ZBR-2 reticle, and then I hedged my bet by putting the reticle—and its hash-mark values on a big square of duct-tape on my butt-stock.

On the range getting ready for Mongolia in August 2018. I’ve got the Zeiss Hunting app on my smartphone, connected to the 10x42 RF range-finding binocular via Bluetooth, and the 4-16x50mm Conquest scope mounted on a .300 Weatherby Magnum barrel.
On the range getting ready for Mongolia in August 2018. I’ve got the Zeiss Hunting app on my smartphone, connected to the 10×42 RF range-finding binocular via Bluetooth, and the 4-16x50mm Conquest scope mounted on a .300 Weatherby Magnum barrel.

The new Conquest scope came into zero easily and the adjustments were accurate, pure Zeiss. In the best part of a month in Mongolia we hit seven different areas, meaning endless drives and lots of bumping over horrible roads. I checked zero at least five times, and neither the rifle nor scope shifted a bit. The new 10×42 RF binocular was awesome, ranging far and fast. In the field, I must admit I didn’t strain the optics. Thanks to good stalking by the Shikar-Safari team, no shots exceeded 325 yards, but whether sheep, ibex, or maral stag, there were no misses, no tracking, and no lack of confidence.

All in all, I got what I paid for. Great shots, great scopes, and great rifles. It just takes some shopping around and field use to figure out what works best for you and your type of hunts.

Choosing the Right Cartridge – Craig Boddington

CHOOSING THE RIGHT CARTRIDGE… Out of dozens of good ones!
(Craig Boddington)

“Which cartridge for me?” is a question I’m often asked. It may come from someone looking for a first centerfire rifle to get a youngster or spouse started, but just as frequently I am asked, “What should I get next?”

Photo by Craig Boddington
Niece Megan Lurvey had never shot a rifle. We started with a .22 rimfire, then, to introduce her to centerfire muzzle blast, we went to a .204 Ruger. The various varmint cartridges are great for introducing shooters to centerfires, with the .223 the most popular and available.

These are altogether different questions. In both cases, it’s essential to know the intended purpose; for the second question, obviously, I also have to ask what that person already has. Either way, we have so many great cartridges today that’s it’s a bewildering mess! The good news is that there are few wrong answers—no “bad” cartridges make it to factory production, and there’s all manner of overlap and redundancy in power requirements. There are dozens of good “deer cartridges,” only slightly fewer great “elk cartridges,” and so forth.  Continue reading Choosing the Right Cartridge – Craig Boddington

Craig Boddington: Submit your Hunting Permit Applications Now!

Tag Time: Not in the Drawings? Now is the Time! (Craig Boddington)

North American hunters enjoy an amazing bounty of both wildlife and opportunity, but things almost didn’t turn out this way. By 1900, most of our large game species were in serious trouble. Protection and management brought them back, some to incredible plenty, such as our 35 million whitetail deer. Along the winding road to recovery, a unique system of wildlife management developed that we call the North American Model.

Photo: Craig Boddington
My Dad and I with a wonderful Montana bighorn, the first sheep tag I drew. Concerned about disease caused by overpopulation, Montana doubled the tags in this unit after the applications were in. It takes luck, but you must apply!

The North American Model is said to have seven tenets:

  1. Wildlife as a public trust resource
  2. Elimination of markets for game
  3. Wildlife allocated by law
  4. Taking of wildlife only for legitimate purposes
  5. Wildlife considered an international resource
  6. Science as the proper tool
  7. Democracy of hunting

Implicit in the model is the principle is that hunters and anglers provide the primary funding. The first and the last tenants—which hold that we believe wildlife belongs to everyone, not just private landowners or the government—are almost unheard of elsewhere in the world.

The last tenant, democracy of hunting, holds that all citizens in good standing may hunt—subject to seasons and licensing requirements, of course. Due to scarcer resources, both science and law dictate that not everyone can have a license every season. We have a system that allocates permits by a public drawing, a system that serves as one of the very best examples of the democracy of hunting that we enjoy.

Continue reading Craig Boddington: Submit your Hunting Permit Applications Now!