Writing the Successful Gun-Focused Hunting Story: Part I The Story

As a person who has been writing and selling stories about guns and hunting since the 1970s, I would like to demonstrate how to craft a successful gun-focused hunting story.  In any hunting story the first thing that needs to be established is the focus of the story. Is it to be primarily about a firearm? Or is it to be about a person, place or variety of game. Any of these subject materials may be used, but before the story is even started its primary focus needs to be decided upon.

The second thing to be decided upon is who is telling the story? ls this to be a first-person story as in the typical “Me and Joe” story where you describe what you and your hunting buddy did on a given trip? Is it to be more about the gun and its statistical attributes that you have discovered through a typical “Gun Test” type of coverage where you take the firearm through its paces with a variety of ammo and shoot it at different ranges? Is this to be a “Hunt Test,” where you use the gun to take a piece of game or a balance between the two as a “Gun-Hunt Test.”

The long form of “Me and Joe” stories are now disfavored in the marketplace. If an editor wants this type of story he is likely to republish some famous long-dead author, rather than take a new piece from you. In essence you are competing against every outdoor author who ever wrote as well as your contemporaries. You can go ahead and write such a story to get all of your thoughts on the subject down on paper, but likely the editor will want more like 1,800 words and more photos, rather than your 3,000 word piece which is now considered almost an epic-length story.

In the example I am going to use, I write a long-form outdoor story to illustrate some possible elements that might be used and in a later exercise you will edit this story down to 1,500 words by removing the less significant portions of the story. This is what an editor would call, “cutting the fat out of a story.”

The first thing that a writer must do is to get something down on paper. That is a rather obvious statement, but is a real hang-up for some people. They have a tough time committing to a project that is going to require them to do some real mental work. An accurate description of the events described in the following story is: On Thanksgiving afternoon I took a modified Ruger Old Army percussion revolver with a scope sight and 14-inch barrel and using .45 Colt  reloads shot from a Taylor & Co.’s conversion cylinder killed a young buck in my food plot.

Some people cannot get much beyond that sentence in attempting to put a story together. While an accurate statement of the events suitable for a police report, this description is not sufficient for an outdoor story, unless this is a concluding line in a story that is focused on say, reloading for the .45 Colt  Imagine in a magazine one photo, this line followed by three blank pages.  The reader of the magazine demands much more than that.

What does the reader expect when he picks up a magazine article? He expects : A. the truth unless the story is identified as fiction, B. a readable story, C. to be told something that he did not know, D. some difficulty overcome by the author and E. a satisfying conclusion.

Here is the story. Read it and identify the various sections as I describe them. My comments are in italics.

Thanksgiving Deer with a 14-inch Ruger Old Army using the .45 Colt Taylor & Company’s Conversion Cylinder 

State laws vary on what guns may be legally used to take deer which caused me to convert a percussion Ruger Old Army percussion pistol into a scoped .45 L.C. revolver with a 14-inch barrel to participate in the 17th Annual Minnesota Governor’s Opener 2018 Hunt in Hinckley, Minnesota. These hunts have been a Minnesota tradition for that has been continued through different administrations to promote outdoor activities in Minnesota. Although the general concept started with deer hunting, it has been expanded to also include a Pheasant Opener and Fishing Opener that works on the same format.

The first sentence in a journalistic manner tells the who, what, when, where, why and how of the story that is to follow.

Outdoor writers from all over the country are invited to these events, housed in a different location in the state each year and taken hunting or fishing by sponsoring organizations such as the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association.  For this event we were billeted in the Grand Casino in Hinckley, and this is the first time in my life that I had a Jacuzzi in hunt camp. I was glad to see it  and used it to help restore some mobility in my legs after the day and a half drive up from Georgia.  I drove my 2011 Ranger Ford Sports Truck up with the expectation that I would have a big Midwestern deer to take home.  I was not looking for a trophy deer – a good-sized corn-fed doe would do just fine.

The first time I had considered going to the Opener, the regulations stated that percussion revolvers were not legal firearms for taking deer. For this reason I postponed the hunt until the next year. This gave me time to get a .45 Colt conversion cylinder from Taylor & Co. to allow me to use cartridges in the Ruger Old Army percussion revolver.  This also gave me time to send the gun to Master Gunsmith Dykes Reber in North Little Rock, Arkansas, to put a 14-inch barrel on the Old Army and a sight base so that I could take full advantage of the gun’s capabilities.

This answers the question why did I have such a gun built and who did the work?

This conversion cylinder has a removable back plate that contains the firing pins that allow the flat-faced percussion hammer to strike the pins and drive them into the primers and fire the cartridges. This back plate uses a little more than a quarter-inch of space in the rear of the cylinder and reduces the over-all chamber length. When you add the space taken by the cartridge case, I found that I could not load more than 25 grains of Hodgeon’s Triple7even in these cases, although I could load 37 grains of powder in the percussion cylinder using Kaido Ojamma’s 255 grain flat-nosed bullet. I also tried other black powder substitute loads that you can see in the table below. Some worked better than others, but they were still not producing the velocities/energies that I wanted to take on a big Minnesota whitetail.

This covers the operational characteristics of the conversion cylinder and the load that I used. This nuts and bolts material is what people who read about guns thrive on. It is akin to a baseball fan’s knowledge of the Red Socks winning the World Series.

Hornady’s reloading manual recognizes two types of .45 Colt reloads. The first are for ordinary 1873 Peacemaker revolvers and their replicas. These include lower velocity Cowboy Action Loads and top out at about 900 fps. with 255 grain bullets. Then they have a section on loads intended for the stronger Ruger Blackhawk revolvers, Thompson/Center single shot pistols and the like. The lowest category of these was a load of 18 grains of Aliant 700X which registered a velocity of 1262 fps. from my modified Old Army with its 14-inch barrel. This was an accurate load with Ojamaa’ cast bullets. I enhanced these bullets’ capabilities   by weighing each one to provide a reloads that would give the best shot-to-shot accuracy when loaded into new Starline cases.

Loads for the .45 L.C. in the Ruger Old Army with the Taylor & Co. Conversion Cylinder

Gun           Powder         Bullet         Velocity     Group

Ruger Old Army .45 L.C. Alliant 700X

5.6 gr. wt.

K. Ojamaa’s 255 gr. 718.7 ft/sec 1 ½-in. 25 yards
Alliant Black MZ 913.9 ft/sec 2-in group
Hodgdon 777

25 gr. wt.

No record 3-in group
25.6 gr. wt.

Old Eynsford FFFg

865.1 ft/sec 3.5-in group
Black Mag 3 1006 ft/sec 7-inch group
Alliant 700X

18 gr. wt.

1262 ft/sec 1 ½-in group
Ruger Old Army Percussion Cylinder Hodgdon 777 35 gr. wt. 1039 ft/sec 2-in group

 

My old Hurter’s Super Model single-stage reloading press is a beast of a press. By the time I bought it in 1973 in Alaska, the old press had already been used to reload tens of thousands of rounds by a GI who did custom reloading for his buddies.  As a consequence, it came with a box of assorted shell holders for almost any caliber used by Alaska’s shooters and hunters. Fortunately, it also came with an adapter to enable it to take RCBS and Redding reloading dies, so keeping it going to run the few hundred hulls that I do a year presented no problems.  It’s slow, but it gets the job done.

This was included to illustrate the point that reloading presses made years before some of you were born can still give excellent results.  You do not need the newest thing available to reload these cartridges.

I found that the loads shot accurately from the pistol and the fired cases dropped freely from the conversion cylinder indicating that the gun was handling these higher pressure reloads without any problems. The hard lead bullets were cast from mainly wheel-weight metal and gave no leading in the barrel. This is a load that I thought could punch through muscle and bone for even the largest deer and hogs. It is not a .44 Remington Magnum load, and never can be. This is the direct equivalent of some of Elmer Keith’s hot .45 Colt reloads that he started writing about in the 1930s.

This paragraph ranks the power of my favored reload with those produced in the past and with the .44 Remington Magnum.

My use of muzzleloaders, which are mostly single-shot guns, has taught me the value of one well-placed shot, rather than relying on multiple hits do down a piece of game. Although revolvers do have multi-shot capabilities, I try to drop the game with the first shot and then use another if necessary to end its struggle. This is exactly the scenario that played out on my Thanksgiving hunt.

This is a personal plug that a person needs to learn how to shoot accurately and put that first shot where it needs to go.

November, 2018, was a busy month. I started on the 3rd with my opening day hunt in Hinckley. I drove  to my host’s house and was taken to the blind where I was to hunt. It was a frosty morning, but I was well dressed. Rain and snow had been threatened for the day as a new weather system was moving east, but it had not yet arrived. Although this built-up stand had a platform and seat, it had no top.

I had taken two guns. My primary one was a Davide Pedersoli Mortimer flintlock fowler which I had loaded with a patched round ball and 100 grains of Olde Eynsford FFg black powder. Being a flintlock, its ignition was problematic in wet weather, so I was glad to have the Old Army with its water-proof cartridges as a back-up.   In the Management Area where I hunted I could take only one deer, but it could be either a doe or buck. Either would be fine, I was just hoping for a good-sized deer.

This paragraph explains why I take two guns into the deer stand. Wet weather can quickly drown a flintlock’s exposed ignition system.

I stayed in the stand from dawn until 1:00 P.M. I was stiff-legged and very tired from having had very little sleep the night before. I was kept awake by the mental excitement concerning the next day’s hunt.  I elected to go back to my Casino Hunt Camp, take a nap and return at 3:00 and stay until dark. This I did and returned much refreshed. At almost last light there were close shots in a pasture next to the property I was hunting.  A large deer, it was too dark to see if it was a buck or doe, briefly walked into the edge of my shooting area, stood for a few seconds and before I could put my fowler down and pick up my scope-sighted pistol, it bounded away into the woods. That ended the Governor’s Opener for me, and I went home empty-trucked.  A radio broadcaster who was hunting another part of the property had similar luck. Neither of us took a deer from that hunt even though he stayed in all day.

Once home, I had a few days to get ready for my drive down to the Miami Book Fair which is an annual event held by Miami-Dade College at the Wolfston Campus in downtown Miami. After four days in Florida I drove back in time to cook turnips, a sweet potato soufflé’ and make dill deer potato salad to contribute to Thanksgiving Dinner at my sisters (see my softcover books for recipes). Mary was recovering from a bout with near pneumonia. Two of her daughters, Marsha and Linda came down and cooked a turkey and made the dressing for our holiday meal. Even though this was a somewhat impromptu and rushed-up meal, there was certainly enough to eat and we had many of our traditional foods on the table.

After the meal I left Hector, my Lab, to continue to enjoy the festivities with Hera, my former dog who abandoned me and took up with my sister and brother-in-law and their dog Boomer. These three get along well and leaving Hector in such good hands allowed me to go to the woods without Hector playing his favorite game, Finding Hovey in the Deer Woods.

These two paragraphs give some personal insight into my character and the nature of this hunt as an almost accidental happening on Thanksgiving afternoon. The tie-in with the story is that this documents my good fortune on this day.

Full, but not stuffed, I took a power nap to help keep me sharp on the stand.  At about 3:00 P.M.  I threw on a German camo jacket, an orange vest, grabbed my Old Army and walked down my trail to my food plot, some 400 yards from my house. If it were not for the forests now growing in the old cotton fields, you would be able to see my house from the stand. My plan was to sit in the stand until dark to see if anything came out.

By this time it had been my 12th deer hunt and 8th with the pistol this season. If you should think that we gun writers get to go to all the good places and always get a trophy deer each time we go out, this is not the case.  This had been a grim season for me. It was not that I was refusing deer waiting for a trophy buck; I was just not seeing any deer within range of my short-range shooting equipment, i.e. a crossbow, flintlock fowler and the Old Army. With an ideal shot I could reliably take a deer at 75 or perhaps even at 100 yards with the scoped sighted revolver, but the few deer I had seen were beyond my self-imposed range limit.

This documents a little bit of drama and trial. My getting this deer was not a one-hunt one-kill affair, but the culmination of a long series of attempts.

It was coming up towards dusk and a buck stepped out into the food plot to my left. This was a small buck, about a 2-year-old and was sporting four points on one side and three on the other. One side of the rack had been somehow deformed and had an odd kink in the horns.  I spread corn in front of that stand from time to time during the hunting season, whether I hunted the food plot or not. This way deer would come to check out the spot and seek to come earlier to get first dibs at any corn that happened to be there.

This buck, for once, did as predicted. It nibbled on some of the emerging oats and winter peas that were sprouting in the plot, but made steadily for the corn.  I had time to really consider if I would take that deer or not.  The Quality Deer Management folks would maintain that you should never shoot such a deer, but let it grow and take a doe instead. I was down to the last few packages of deer and wild hog in my freezer and I needed some meat.

Why  I shot such a young deer is now explained and in the next paragraph I discuss the possible consequences.

Yet another consideration is that although we may take a dozen deer in Georgia only two can be bucks, and I know that I have at least two much better bucks on the property. If I took this small deer now, that would preclude me from perhaps having to refuse a chance at a much larger deer later in the season. Nonetheless, I had made my decision. If the deer approached close enough I would take it.

These two paragraphs add a little tension to the story, rather than flatly stating, “When the deer got close enough I shot it.”

As the deer walked closer and closer to my sure-kill zone, I put down the Mortimer Fowler and picked up the Old Army. The highest percentage shot that I would have with the pistol was for the spine which would drop the deer and allow me to make an easy retrieve in the fading daylight. I silent cocked the gun moving the cylinder from an empty chamber to a live round and carefully rested the barrel on the shooting rail of the stand. This steadied the gun. I now had to wait until the deer was lined up for a spine shot.

These are short-range hunting tools and I was holding out for my best chance for a quick kill.

Ultimately the deer, at 40-yards, moved into the desired position, and I found the crosshairs in my scope. Even with the dimming light I could align the vertical crosshair parallel to the buck’s backbone. There is always a temptation for me to shoot too quickly at a piece or game. I had to purposefully calm myself down before I started my trigger pull. If I ever get to the stage that I do not get excited when I am about to take a shot, I will give up hunting. Now all the factors were in my favor, and it was time to prove my concept and take the shot.

This is a hunting and shooting tip.

The trigger was slowly squeezed, the hammer fell and the .45 L.C. round fired sending Kaido Ojamaa’s 255 grain hard cast bullet on its way.  I could not tell exactly where the round hit, but the deer was down in its tracks.  It was still moving its legs, and I quickly gave it a finishing shot through its lungs which killed it seconds later. I was happy and relieved that this deed was done.

Why I shot twice and why multishot muzzleloaders are useful in the field, although prohibited in some states.

All of my camera and deer retrieving gear was back at house. I wanted to shoot some video about the hunt, and rushed back to get my cameras and Brother-in-Law, Charles Eddins, to help me load the deer. I wanted to load it into my Ford Ranger pick-up truck so that I could take it to the processor that night. Although I usually clean my own deer, I like to have one deer a year done by a professional processor,  in order to get some packages of cubed steaks as well as  ground deer and roast.

I am now 76 and this damn age thing is starting to tell on me. I am losing muscle strength and cannot load a 125-pound deer into the back of my Ranger by myself. Charles is about 5 years older and has back problems and between us we could not get the deer on the truck. He helped me take the video and still photos in the dark with light provided by my truck’s headlights.

True confession time. I am not the guy I once was. I am not embarrassed to admit it. 

Charles had a utility trailer with a back that could be lowered to the ground that enabled me to pull the deer off the plot onto the trailer.  Then we reversed the trailer and used the inclined back of the trailer to pull the deer higher onto my tailgate and  into the back of the truck. By using this two-stage technique we were able to get it aboard my truck and to my processor in town. For some reason the lights on the utility trailer did not work, and I did not want to take a chance on pulling that trailer to town in the dark.

A tip on how to load a deer using the drop back of a utility trailer.

When I am hunting alone, as I most often do, I use my Snapper lawnmower with the mower deck removed to pull either a shed or cart as close to the kill site and I can get them. Then I only have a four-inch lift to load the deer and take it to my tripod where I can quarter it and put it in a chilled cooler or on ice until I can package it the next day. I have done several videos about different aspects of deer processing and cooking which you can view on YouTube.

What did this experience show that was not already well-known to most people? A. the Ruger Old Army is a strong capable percussion revolver whose usefulness can be enhanced by using a conversion cylinder to enable it to shoot .45 L.C. Keith-type loads. B. The addition of a scope base and long-eye-relief pistol scope not only enhanced better target acquisition, but also enabled a precision shot to be taken on dimly lit subjects. C. The added weight caused by the addition of the scope and the 14-inch barrel made the gun comfortable to shoot, even with powerful hunting loads. D. The use of cartridges in the revolver enabled it to be reliably used in damp or wet weather, which might hinder a percussion pistol because of water contaminating the priming powder in the cap. E. The long barrel without a front sight allows this gun to be carried with the barrel thrusts through a belt or sash, removing the immediate necessity of having a holster rig custom-made for the pistol.

 

 

 

 

 

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