Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My Friend Mike and Hunting

You might remember that I posted about the passing of my friend Mike Mays of Stokesville, VA. I miss Mike and find I've got less zest for hunting now.

Mike was an interesting fellow and I certainly don't know all the various things he did in his life. I do know that he, like me, went into service soon after graduating from high school. Mike chose the Marine Corps and he was proud of his service. Some time in that service he was at the USMC HQ near Arlington (where he is now buried) and heard the daily or near daily rituals of remembrance and memorial that are conducted there. Now he is buried at Arlington. Later, he left the USMC and came back to Staunton to work and live with his wife and children. While Mike worked hard to fulfill his duties to God, family and country, he still made time to hunt, he loved to hunt and he was good at it.

Mike hunted everything he could hunt, everywhere he could hunt. He even took his bow to FT McClellan and went hunting while attending a course there. I would have been trying to be Honor Graduate. I think Mike did both!

I think Mike tried just about every deer cartridge there is. You might think that he was an inveterate trader but he was just as likely to give away his gun. I know he's done that for several fellows who either admired his gun or whose homes were burned out or endured some other calamity.

Deer hunting was one of his passions, but he often hunted just for the meat rather than for horns. Putting meat in the freezer was a priority with the last deer of the season being the big horns for which he was looking.

As I said, he'd tried a lot of deer cartridges. He told me that he'd tried the .357 Mag in a rifle. Likely, although he didn't say, he was using fairly common and inexpensive Remington or Winchester 158 gr. hollow point loads. Mike was put off the cartridge because he needed to shoot twice. He didn't often need to shoot twice.

I know that he also used several other cartridges including the old stand-bys like the .30-30 with the various factory loads and handloads. When he died he'd settled on the 7mm Rem Mag in an Encore. He had used a .338 Mag but it was only really an improvement when he shot deer out at 450 yards or more. He only had one place where he could make such shots so it wasn't all that important to him. He also held the .25-06 in high esteem and had used it for several years before giving it to somebody with no rifle and getting his first 7mm magnum.

Mike went for years with a positively negative attitude about handguns. He didn't hunt with them and couldn't understand why anyone would. He thought they were inaccurate. One day I had him over to Dad's to shoot some and brought my Combat Commander. There was a stump out at about 115 yards and I was just chewing it up with the .45. He was convinced when he managed to hit it a couple of times as well.

His dad had given him a .38 snub, I don't know the make, he sold it to buy another gun. Before he sold it I cast some HPs for it and he came to the house and used my set up to load them. Said they were actually accurate in the revolver that he thought couldn't hit anything.

That was the start and he and I got a team up for the 1993 National Guard air pistol competition. Our team placed third nationally as did Mike. Unfortunately, I didn't make the cut (due to a really crummy first target). He came home and eventually got a Keltec 9mm and a Ruger Super Redhawk (sold after retirement to fund his business). The Keltec was his CHP gun and he didn't care much one way or the other about it but he liked the SRH. His load, after much load development, was 23 gr. of H110 under the Hornady XTP loaded out to crimp in the lower/second cannelure. he thought that load was quite a penetrator.

He also owned a Ruger MK II 10" (.22 LR of course) which he'd bought for turkey hunting. However, despite the gun's accuracy he wasn't much impressed with it fitting his needs and traded it to my dad for Dad's leather working tools. Now I have the gun and to say that I'm pleased that I have a great gun once owned by both my good friend and my dad would be a great understatement.

As I said, Mike loved to hunt turkeys and it was often his conversation topic of choice. He hunted turkeys with bow, rifle and shotgun and he tried a number of shotguns. I think he tried, at some point, the 20, 16, 12 and 10 gauges. While he mostly stuck with the 3" 12 gauge, he tried the 3½" 12 and 10. He tried the 10 in both the Ithaca semi-auto and the H&R single-shot. Apparently he found no advantage to justify the limited utility of the gun and went back to the 3" 12 gauge. He also tried all the actions and preferred the pump. I know he owned owned one before he died but I've no idea what it was or where it went. His favorite load was a maximum charge of #6 shot and he took only head shots.

But, as I said, Mike also tried other than shotguns on turkey. With the SRH, he used BullX 240 gr. hard cast SWCs loaded over 17 gr. of 2400 in the .44 Magnum case. Placed at the wing butt he felt this was the best balance of effectiveness vs meat damage. Remember, he was justifying his hunting with meat. He also used the bow and he had several bows in the time I knew him.

One was a custom long bow. I don't remember who made it but Mike always thought he'd over done it on the pull weight. He'd bought a 60 lb draw (at his draw length) but felt that a 50-55 lb draw would have been more than enough. I once saw Mike put two consecutive arrows into a gallon milk jug at 80 yards (laser measured after the two shots). He was good and he certainly didn't need the high tech stuff.

Sometimes I just didn't understand Mike's reasoning and in compound bows that was very apparent. Oh, I understood why Mike had a compound bow with sights, stabilizer, etc. He always wanted the best available within his budget and felt that the compound was just that. But while he thought the 55 lb draw stick bow was sufficient and to be preferred, he was all into the heavy draw weight, over-draw bow for hunting. He also converted to the graphite arrows early on. Mike thought that speed was everything in the compound bow and so that was the goal he was chasing. After VA changed the law, he would often get all his deer with a bow and not bother to buy a muzzleloader license.

Oh, yeah, Mike hunted with muzzleloaders, too! He once told me that he'd given up on flintlocks after one season. I guess he'd had a bad experience. But he hunted caplocks and finally an in-line. Again, the best available in his budget is what he bought. He'd owned Traditions, CVA, Thompson-Center and Knight products (that I know of) and I think he'd settled on the Knight in-lines. Of course, as soon as it was legal that gun had a telescopic sight. Mike was like a lot of folks, including my son-in-law, who feel that the muzzleloader season is just another opportunity to kill deer. If, by some dint of hard luck or missed hunting time (we were active duty at the time), he used whatever was most likely to collect meat and during the last two weeks of December that was an in-line muzzleloader.

Yep, aside from everything else Mike was quite a good shooting and hunting buddy. I hope he's got a chance to enjoy, somehow, that which he enjoyed here. But he really enjoyed spreading the word of Jesus Christ, too, and I know that he's doing whatever God's work is where he is.

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