Tag Archives: Leisure

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Virginia’s picturesque Skyline Drive is for lovers

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Is it true when people say, “Virginia is for Lovers”? Perhaps!

I believe Virginia is for anyone who admires natural beauty with rolling hills, sandy seashores and majestic mountains. It is a land that possesses hospitable colonial charm in an age that has “gone with the wind.”

It is a land where people appreciate the memoirs of great men who formed our Republic. Old Virginia is rich in the annals of America’s most turbulent years.

We arrived in quaint Charles Town, West Virginia, and lazily spent the afternoon strolling by the colorful shops, taverns and notable streets where our founding fathers once gathered. Our first travel evening was spent at the beautiful and historic Bavarian Inn. It overlooks the Potomac in Sherpardstown.

We especially enjoyed the cozy informal ambiance of the Rathskeller with a cold dark beer before feasting on a delicious German-style dinner. Our room at the inn with a king-size bed was very comfortable. A cool nightly breeze and the comforting sound of the Potomac River flowing pass invited sleep. There was no better way to end a lovely day.

It was an early July morning when we headed south to explore this historical land from the rocky rims of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We discovered it is a distance of 574 miles from Front Royal, Virginia, to Cherokee Gap, North Carolina. At the park entrance, we purchased a National Parks Senior Pass, which is for life and the single best bargain the federal government has ever given senior citizens.

By 1939, Skyline Drive was opened to the public after President Herbert Hoover approved its construction in 1932. Today, it is one of America’s most scenic and popular byways; an impressive 105-mile windy road along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking the spectacular and breathtaking Shenandoah Valley. It twists and turns through some of Virginia’s most beautiful countryside.

Wildlife, deer, bears and turkeys are abundant along the roadway. An autumn or spring visit among these mountain peaks is especially colorful with mile after glorious mile of spectacular scenery. In late July, the drive was thriving with flowering wild rhododendrons and countless bouquets of mountain laurel that flourish along the road.

As we approached Pinnacles Overlook, a breathtaking view of Virginia’s Piedmont countryside unfolded before us. A short distance further near Skyland Resort, a great camping location is the entrance to a 4.6-mile round trip trail into White Oak Canyon.

The canyon is an area teeming with towering oaks and hemlocks, large boulders, steep gorges and a lazy meandering stream. At Mile Post 50, there is a short but steep trail leading down to Dark Hollow Falls, a stream that drops nearly 100 feet through a wooded ravine. The hike down is easy, but the return that told me I needed to exercise more.

A favorite stop for us has always been Big Meadows, a grassy 150-acre area of wide-open meadows that is a dramatic change to the wooded forest of the park. We have many fond memories of weekend outings at the Big Meadows Lodge when our children were young, the boulders we climbed, the trails we explored, and the viewing of whitetail deer.

This is a place to get out the bikes and ride among abundant wildflowers of violets, geraniums, azaleas and the many deer that call the meadow home. After a tasty dinner in the lodge and as evening set over Big Meadow, we descended the mountain. We had made reservations to sleep over at the Massanutten Resort in Harrisonburg.

We felt the Fareways Restaurant within the resort was an excellent place to begin our day. The restaurant sits aside a hill overlooking the big valley and the mountains beyond. We found the service satisfactory and price reasonable. After a tasty breakfast, we took a leisurely walk on a pathway leading to one of the many flowering gardens within the resort.

After an early breakfast and walk we returned to Skyline Drive, entering at Swift Run Gap and headed south towards North Carolina. It was a beautiful morning, a morning to loiter and take pleasure in an unhurried drive. When we arrived at Ivy Creek, we found a spectacular vista before us of the great southern countryside.

Diane and I remembered the chilly autumn weekend we spent in a lonely cabin on the hillside as we passed Loft Mountain. We spent 48 hours alone on the mountain with wild creatures, flora and fauna as our only neighbors. No television, radio, telephones or noisy neighbors, just quiet times with nature and a good book.

We recalled the evening crackling of the fireplace and the warm light glow as we cuddled together and fell asleep. If you’d like to remove stress and just get away from it all for day or two, we highly recommend a cabin on Loft Mountain.

Continuing south, we lingered at Trayfoot and Horsehead Mountain and the Moorman River Overlook. The views of the southern Appalachian Range were absolutely breathtaking. The scenic drive approaching Calf Mountain winding through the Bear Den Mountains to McCormick Gap was incredible as well.

At the far end of Skyline Drive at Rockfish Gap, the road officially becomes the Blue Ridge Parkway. The parkway continues for 469 miles into North Carolina passing points of interest such as Indian Gap, Peaks of Otter, and Stone Mountain. It finally ends at the base of the Great Smokey Mountains.

We will continue to explore this wondrous region to Cherokee Gap in our next publication. All our best.

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3 interesting hunting ammo lines from 2019 SHOT Show

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The major outdoor brands traditionally unveil all sorts of new products at the SHOT Show each year. 2019 was no exception, and I’ve highlighted Winchester’s .350 Legend cartridge along with a couple of new firearms built specifically for hunters in previous articles.

Today I’m covering three particularly interesting ammunition lines that were also introduced at the SHOT Show this year.

Image credit: Federal

Federal Berger Hybrid Hunter

The rising popularity of long-range shooting has resulted in increasing demand for ammunition optimized for long-range hunting. Federal answered the call with this line of ammo utilizing the low-drag match-grade Berger Hybrid Hunter bullet.

Some Berger bullets can be very sensitive to seating depth, so the accuracy of a particular load can really vary from rifle to rifle. However, Federal claims this ammunition is built for exceptional accuracy in factory rifles due to the unique design of the Berger Hybrid Hunter bullet that incorporates both tangent and secant ogive features.

Loaded with Gold Medal primers and special powder in nickel plated brass, Federal Berger Hybrid Hunter ammunition is currently available in .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Winchester Short Magnum, .270 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .280 Ackley Improved, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and .300 Winchester Magnum.

Image credit: Norma

Norma BONDSTRIKE

Speaking of long range shooting, Norma’s new BONDSTRIKE ammunition also utilizes high BC bullets designed for minimal wind drift and maximum energy retention at long range. This ammo has a couple of different characteristics that set it apart from the Federal Berger ammunition we just talked about though.

First, the Norma BONDSTRIKE has a polymer tip to further increase the BC of the bullet and to help initiate expansion at lower impact velocities. Second, the Norma bullets also utilize a bonded core for durable construction, high weight retention, and maximum penetration.

Norma manufactures their BONDSTRIKE ammo in .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Magnum, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, and .300 Remington Ultra Magnum. All of those loads utilize a 180 grain Norma Bondstrike Extreme bullet with an exceptionally high BC of .615.

Image credit: Hornady

Hornady Outfitter

Hornady also introduced a new line of ammo this year: their Outfitter Ammunition. Just as the name suggests, this ammunition is designed for use on guided hunts in really tough environments when the absolute last thing you need is for your ammo to fail at the moment of truth. For that reason, Hornady touts the rugged and hard hitting traits of their Outfitter ammo.

Specifically, this ammunition utilizes a nickel-plated case for corrosion resistance and reliable feeding under all conditions. Hornady also advertises the waterproof characteristics of the Outfitter ammo.

It also uses Hornady’s lead-free GMX bullet. Not only is the GMX legal to use in California, but it’s also an extremely tough copper alloy bullet designed for controlled expansion, deep penetration, and high weight retention.

Hornady Outfitter ammo is currently produced in .243 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270 Winchester, .270 Winchester Short Magnum, 7mm Remington Magnum, 7mm Winchester Short Magnum, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, .300 Winchester Short Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .375 H&H Magnum, and .375 Ruger.

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5 tips to improve your clays shooting

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Sporting clays is often called golf with a shotgun. In sporting clays, you ride a golf cart from station to station along a course that, in one way or another, simulates upland game-bird hunting. And like golf, sporting clays (and other clays sports such as skeet, trap and 5-stand) demand the same mental rigor, practice and discipline to improve your performance.

With the clays sports and golf you have to focus on your swing, swing follow-through, foot position and unwavering focus on the clay target and golf ball.

There’s certainly no shortage of opinions and theories on the best way to become a better shotgun shooter. Still, here are five basic tips that should help with your clays games.

The gun barrel should remain in “soft focus” while 100 percent of your visual concentration is on the target.

1. Focus, Adapt and Self-Correct

Remember, everything in the shotgun sports starts with the eyes. They transmit information to your brain and in turn to the rest of your body. Your ability to analyze target speed, distance and line of flight demands that your eyes fully concentrate on the target.

If you check your gun barrel as you’re swinging for the target, that means you took your eyes off the target and you’ll probably miss the window of opportunity to break it.

Good target focus also helps improve your confidence because it tells your mind that you’re in control. Even if you miss the target, focus delivers feedback to your brain that builds a library of target presentations. For example, when it’s time to take a shot, your overall focus in individual shots recognizes a similar shot — boosting your confidence.

Next to target focus, the most important thing you can develop is the ability for self-correction. If you miss a shot, ask yourself why. Replay the shot in your mind.

Were your feet in the correct position? Did you look at the barrel during the swing and take your eyes off the target? Did you wait too long to break the target? Did something distract you? Did you pull the gun away from your face as you moved toward the target? Did you dip your shoulder?

Pay attention to yourself and to the target without being overly self-conscious.

2. Move Faster, Shoot More Quickly

You know the old saying, “He who hesitates in lost.” Too many shooters spend so much time trying to figure where to break the target that by time they reach a decision the target is long gone — either by distance or by succumbing to gravity.

There’s a technique in hunting game birds called “instinctive shooting.” It’s based on the idea that we can all point at something and if your finger were a shotgun our mind would instinctively point at the right place to break it.

Of course, it all starts with focus, but that’s a feeder to the same pointing instincts of your brain that allowed Neanderthals to throw a spear and land dinner.

The idea of moving faster and shooting more quickly essentially means trust those Neanderthal instincts. Swing your shotgun toward the target and when your brains says shoot it, don’t second guess the shot, just pull the trigger!

A qualified shotgun coach can help accelerate your progress in areas such as focus, rapid target acquisition, proper gun mount and mental training.

3. Stop Boxing

Efficiency in movement saves precious seconds that helps make you a quicker and more consistent shooter. There’s two points to mount a shotgun: your shoulder pocket and your cheek.

And there’s also two techniques to mount a shotgun: pre-mounted and low gun.

With pre-mount you put the stock fully against your cheek bone and into the soft pocket in your shoulder, and then call for the target. This method is used in clays sports where the targets are somewhat repetitive such as skeet and trap. You already have an idea of where the target comes from and where it’s going so it’s OK to keep the gun in a static mount.

But in wingshooting and sporting clays the target can come from anywhere, and you need both eyes (bifocal vision) to see it as soon as possible and follow the path to the best break point. For these sports, you use the “low-gun” position where the end of the stock is in your armpit. As the target comes into view, the swing and mount to the shoulder and cheek are integrated in a single move.

Often, people shooting low gun will “box” their mount — meaning they make it into two moves: out from the shoulder and then up to their face and back to the shoulder (forming a right-angle, box-like motion). Boxing will cost you time and accuracy.

Remember, from the low-gun position, as you swing toward the target you’re raising the gun and as soon as you feel the stock touch your cheek, pull the trigger.

When swinging the shotgun, keep your grip pressure evenly distributed with both hands.

4. Pushing Rather than Swinging

Some people tend to push their shotgun through a swing from the back (the grip) rather than leading it from front (the forend). If you swing the shotgun from the pistol grip two mistakes occur: you can peel the gun away from your face, confusing your eyes about the proper target picture; and if the gun is away from your face it will kick you much harder.

Leading the gun through a swing actually involves both arms in a simultaneous move. There should be a 50/50 balance between the forend and grip. And although your front hand seems to be directing the lead, in fact you’re swinging the gun from your waist.

Hold the gun against your face and cheek, the front hand holding the forend for stability and swing the shotgun from your waist. Swinging with your arms can cause the gun to move away from your body and result in wildly inconsistent swings.

Think of yourself as tank turret: the gun barrel doesn’t move laterally, it’s the turret (your waist) that swings toward the target. From your waist, you swing the shotgun in a smooth and even motion right under the line of the target.

5. Managing Pressure

Like other sports clays shooting can lead you to becoming anxious about your performance. Don’t worry about your overall scores or those of the people you’re shooting with. Take each target one at a time. This way you’re competing against yourself, not others.

Likewise, some clays sports involve simultaneous pairs, where two targets are in the air at the same time. Control the pressure in these scenarios by thinking of them as two individual targets.

Avoid self-inflicted, and possibly detrimental pressure, by concentrating only on the shot at hand. Believe in yourself, focus, and take the shot.

Conclusion

The basic rule to succeeding at the shotgun sports is to enjoy yourself. Give yourself permission to miss shots with the underlying motivation to constantly improve. If you find yourself in a slump or repeating the same mistakes, start over with the basics.

And don’t underestimate the value of qualified shotgun coach.

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Caution urged for several popular spring destinations

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It has been a cold and unreasonably long winter. Americans are ready to shed the cumbersome winter layers and head to out picture-perfect destinations to enjoy some sun and sand.

Mexico and the Caribbean are popular choices, but this year they might not enjoy the same patronage from U.S tourists. The U.S. government has issued travel advisories for areas of both destinations. With spring breaks already underway in some areas of the country, this has impacted travel plans in some cases.

A Level 2 travel advisory has been issued for the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Americans seeking these sunny beach destinations for spring break may now have to make alternate plans or “exercise increased caution” if their holiday is already booked.

In the Bahamas, armed robberies, burglaries, violent crimes and increasing instances of sexual assault against tourists have necessitated the warnings. Reports of such crimes also include concerns that resorts and related recreational tours do not have security oversight or maintain safety certifications. Additionally, there is the worrisome fact that local criminal investigative capabilities and medical care is limited, which means help in times of emergency may be hard to come by.

The U.S. government also issued a travel warning for Mexico in last November after several deadly clashes in Cancun, but it’s still highly recommended that Americans exercise caution if traveling there in the spring. It is a popular destination for Americans of all ages but more so for college students due to its relative affordability.

The state department issued warnings for all 31 states in Mexico, with five states listed in the “Do Not Travel” category. It is important that travelers read through these warnings in detail before making plans as they will get a better understanding of places to avoid or take extra precautions.

Sinaloa, Guerrero, Colima, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas all have the “Do Not Travel” warnings set against them. The other three travel advisory levels include Level 1, which advises one to exercise reasonable precautions; Level 2 which means to use increased caution; and level 3 which urges one to cancel or reconsider travel.

Americans who are yearning for some exotic international locales may look at growing hot spots like Turkey and Serbia. These seemingly unlikely choices have shown strong growth in 2018 as international travel destinations.

The European Travel Commission reported a 22.3 percent increase in travel footfalls for Turkey, 14.7 percent for Serbia, followed closely by Malta, Montenegro and Latvia. Iceland fever may have cooled down a bit, but it is still a popular choice unless you are not quite ready to go back to anywhere cold.

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Things to look for when purchasing a pop-up camper

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Are you in the market for a camper? Like many people, my family has decided to buy a new camper this spring, and we have chosen to purchase a pop-up.

When buying a pop-up camper there are certain things you need to look for. Therefore, I have put together a list of things to look for when purchasing a pop-up camper.

Canvas

The canvas is a very important part of a pop-up to consider. Things to look for are tears, mold, and leaks. Many times, campers sit in storage or old barns and mice use the canvas as a chew toy.

As for mold and mildew, I would normally say stay clear of it, but if you find a pop-up you just love there are ways to clean it. Things like seat cushions and curtains can be removed and washed in the washing machine.

As for the canvas itself, I do not recommend using bleach as it can strip the canvas of its water-proofing ability.

To clean it properly, first you will need to let the canvas air out in the sun for a day or two. Next, mix Dawn dish soap and water together and scrub the canvas down inside and out. I personally use Dawn, but you can use Ivory or another mild dish soap. Again, let the canvas dry.

Then apply a water sealant. If you are lucky enough to find a solid camper but the canvas is in bad shape, you can purchase a new canvas. If you need to replace the canvas, you can purchase one from Canvas Replacements. To learn more about how the canvas is created by Canvas Replacements, check out their video here.

Bed assembly parts/miscellaneous parts

Always be sure to ask the seller to fully set up the camper to ensure all parts are present. It would be horrible if you were to purchase your pop up then get it home only to discover parts were missing; parts like the poles to assemble and stabilize the beds, the crank handle to raise and lower the camper, and latches. It is a good idea to set it up and take it down and be sure the beds slide in and out smoothly.

Lift system

Again, by having the seller fully set up the camper you can inspect the lift system. You can buy replacement parts just like you can buy a new canvas, but unless you know what you’re doing I recommend buying a pop-up that is fully functioning.

There are so many out there for sale, so you can find a decent one with all parts and a good lift system for a reasonable price. When looking at the lift system you want to inspect the cables. Spend some time cranking it up and down just to be sure there are no kinks in it and that it is going to work well for you.

Image credit: CNET/Denise Taylor

Frame

The main thing to look for is if the frame is bent or rusted. If it has just surface rust, it won’t hurt anything because you can sand it and paint it. If the frame is bent — run!

Roof damage

Do a visual inspection for cracks, separation, and holes. If there is dirt and it is minor it can be washed and painted. I recommend washing and painting the roof anyway to ensure no leaks. Obviously, if it is brand new there’s no need for painting.

Tires and axle

When it comes to the axle, look for rust and inspect the components of the suspension. You can’t look at the inside of the axle, but you can take into consideration the campers age and how long it has been sitting.

We learned that campers that have sit awhile can rust from the inside out on their axles. When looking at the tires, look for cracks, including small cracks that can be a sign of dry rot.

Ask the seller when the last time was the bearings were greased. This would not be a reason to not buy the camper but a sign that you would need to tear it apart and grease it yourself.

Curtains and cosmetics

These are the last on my list to be concerned about because you can fix cosmetic issues easily. Cushions and curtains can be replaced. This would also give you the opportunity to add your touches and make it your own.

Conclusion

The most important things to look for are canvas condition, missing parts, bent frames, roof damage and leaks.

We have been RVing for many years and have purchased many kinds of RVs in our lifetime. Some lessons are learned as you go, and as far as axles go, I can’t stress how important it is to make sure that it is not bent. You do not want to be traveling down a highway when an axle breaks and a tire goes flying.

Frames and axles are as important as brakes; you always need all to work properly. Get on your hands and knees, and inspect the underside of the RV, no matter what style you are buying.

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How to spend a great weekend in Austin, Texas

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Known far and wide for live music and keeping it weird, Austin, Texas, makes a perfect destination for a weekend getaway. You might assume the best time to visit is during one of Austin’s famous annual music festivals. But the city has so much to offer its visitors year-round.

From tourist attractions to local hidden gems, here are some items you must add to your Austin itinerary.

Lodging

Hotels in the heart of downtown Austin can cost a pretty penny. Locals know this, and many of them have transformed their property into a cost-effective Airbnb oasis. For optimal luxury and privacy at a lower price tag, check out these Airbnb Plus locations packed with personality.

If you want to stay minutes from restaurants, shops, and nightlife and check out the iconic Austin Motel on South Congress Avenue. The bright colored décor and large swimming pool are perfect for snapping some Instagram-worthy photos.

If you love history or you want to treat yourself, book your weekend at The Driskill Hotel on Sixth Street. This beautiful hotel was built in 1886, and legend has it there is ghost roaming some of its corridors. It also happens to be within walking distance of Austin’s bar scene.

Eating

There are countless excellent restaurants across Austin. But there are a few fan-favorites that rise to the top, and you will want to make sure you add them to your weekend to-do list.

If you want some authentic Tex-Mex, check out Juan in a Million, La Condensa, or Torchy’s Tacos. All of them are top-rated local favorites with unique Austin roots.

If you want some legendary Texas meat, chow down at Franklin Barbecue. (Just be prepared to wait in line for a while first.) If you are craving some pizza, try Home Slice. Their pies are large enough to feed two people easily.

In the mood to branch out and try something totally new? Brunch at Elizabeth Street Café, a Vietnamese/French food fusion restaurant. They’ve got warm noodle entrees and mouth-watering Nutella crepes.

For dessert, grab a gourmet donut loaded with sweet toppings from Gourdough’s or cool down from the Texas heat with Amy’s Ice Creams.

Exploring

Even if you aren’t in town just to catch your favorite artists live on stage, you won’t have to look far for entertainment in Austin.

Wander around South Congress (locally known as SoCo) and watch the famous Congress Bridge Bats take flight at sunset. Shop for unique souvenirs at Art for the People, Uncommon Objects, Waterloo Records, BookPeople, or Allens Boots.

If you need a break from the concrete jungle, have a picnic in Zilker Park. Stroll through the beautiful Zilker Botanical Garden or go for a swim in the Barton Springs Pool. For extra adventure, kayak on Lady Bird Lake, hike Mount Bonnell, or explore the Inner Space Cavern.

If you’re a Texas native or a history buff, you won’t want to miss touring the Texas State Capitol. Parking and entry is completely free! You can also take ghost tours of the whole city from inside a real hearse, or sightsee while you glide across Lady Bird Lake on a riverboat.

No matter what tickles your fancy, you can find something to love about Austin — as long as you are willing to embrace “the weird.”

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The proper way to dry practice

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Dry practice is an excellent way to maintain your firearm manipulation skills — particularly when you cannot get to the range. However, many unintended discharges occur in dry practice due to improper safeguards.

Step one in preparing for dry practice is to follow the safety rules (note: I do not use the term dry fire — we don’t want the pistol to fire!). These rules apply every time you handle a firearm.

  • Treat every firearm as if it is loaded at all times.
  • Always point the firearm in a safe direction — this is dependent upon the environment and circumstances.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger unless you are intentionally firing a shot.
  • Be sure of your target and what is beyond it

To start your dry practice: Unload your pistol in a different room than the one where you plan to dry practice. I always use the mnemonic MRI.

First -— assume a proper grip on the pistol (trigger finger properly indexed) and point pistol in a safe direction. Then apply MRI as follows:

M – Magazine: remove the magazine if there is one inserted

R – Rack: (Pull) the slide to the rear and lock it to the rear

I – Inspect: Visually and physically confirm that the pistol is in fact unloaded.

Place the unloaded pistol in a holster or case for transport to the room where you plan to do your dry practice. There must be no live ammunition in the same room where you are doing dry practice.

During dry practice, always aim the pistol at something that can safely absorb the most powerful round that your pistol can fire. Level IIIa body armor (even old body armor) hung on a coat hanger over a door is great for this purpose.

Other things such as a full bookshelf with no airspace, a wall known to be solid (e.g., an exterior brick wall), or dedicated devices such as the Safe Direction™ dry-fire backstop (a more expensive alternative) all serve as proper dry practice backstops.

It may or may not be a good idea to practice trigger-pulling and reloading in the same session. If you follow the steps outlined in this article 100 percent of the time without fail, then doing both in one session constitutes little risk. However, if you have any doubt — then dry practice reloading and trigger pulling in different sessions.

When using dummy ammunition, absolutely ensure that no live ammo has migrated into the “dummy cartridge” supply — keep them separate at all times. Since I reload, I designed some heavy-duty dummy training rounds that replicate the weight and feel of live ammunition.

To ensure that I did not mix live ammunition with dummy training rounds, I use steel cases with a heavy cannelure to ensure the bullet does not set back in the case when chambering. I also load them with blue bullets.

The heavy cannelure and the blue bullets serve as visual indicators that these are dummy rounds. I personally never shoot steel-cased ammunition and I know of no manufacturer that produces steel case ammunition with blue bullets.

After a dry-practice session, do not immediately reload and holster for carry and never do this in the room where you are dry practicing. When you finish, say out loud: “I am finished dry practicing” three times.

I know it sounds corny; however, doing this resets the mind to the fact that “draw gun, pull trigger” dry practice is finished. When you are finished — YOU ARE FINISHED. Never do one more draw. Place the pistol in its case or holster and return to the room where you unloaded the pistol and safely reload for carry or put the pistol away.

I did one more draw once and the plaque shown in the picture was the result. The metal section is part of an ironing board leg and the wood behind it was a section of wall panel. I shot the ironing board leg with a .357 magnum and the bullet ricocheted off and struck the wall panel.

Fortunately, there were no injuries to anyone except me — my injuries were ringing ears and extreme trauma to my pride. My father made the plaque for me as a permanent reminder not to cut corners.

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How to geocache while RVing

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Geocaching at a cemetery.

Geocaching is the perfect activity when RVing. Geocaching is a modern version of a treasure hunt using either a GPS unit or your smartphone.

As you travel the country, you can find these treasures in state parks, rest areas, towns, country roads, or really anywhere. There are classes teaching geocaching at many state parks but below are the basic steps with some hints.

1. Download the Geocaching app from your phone’s app store (it is free). Register yourself. This gives you access to many geocaches and records the ones you have found.

2. Click on the app. It should open on a map. You may have to hit the circle near the top right to find your location as a blue dot on the map.

3. Zoom in and out to find nearby caches. Tap the nearest one.

4. Tap the cache name then the “Navigate” button. This shows you the distance and direction to the cache. The map may show building and roads that can help you.

5. As you move toward the cache, you’ll see an arrow on the blue dot. Or, hit the compass symbol on the top right to see the general direction.

6. In general, try to get the distance down to 20 feet. At that point experience kicks in. Look for likely and unlikely spots to hide a cache.

Look down — a pile of rocks or wood may hide a cache. You might also want to look up in case the cache is hanging.

7. More information is available on the app. You can challenge yourself to find the cache without any of this additional information. Sometimes I wait until I haven’t found it after a good search to use these hints.

Sometimes I read this information before so I can find it quickly in a busy spot. In general, we try to keep “muggles” (non-geocachers) from noticing a search since they may remove a cache thinking it is trash.

A larger ammo box cache.

  • Description” gives you the information from the owner. Many times there will be some short lesson about the area.
  • “Hint” is a hint from the owner that might help when you are close. Most caches don’t tell you everything about the hiding spot to keep it a challenge.
  • “Activity” shows dates and notes from people that found or did not find (DNF) the cache. Many times the comments or pictures can help you if you are having problems finding the cache. If the recent activity shows several DNFs, you may want to skip this cache. Sometimes caches disappear.
  • I use “Size” to get a feel for the size of the cache.

8. When you find the cache, you can open it and sign the log. Most people bring pencils just in case the pencil is lost or the cache is too small to fit a pencil. There may be small items inside. If you take one, try to replace it with something you brought along.

9. Click on the “Log” button on your phone. This gives you the option of “Found” or to mark it “DNF.” Include a note when logging. Courtesy says to at least say TFTC (thanks for the cache) to thank the cache owner for their work.

You can also use a GPS handheld unit that may get you closer and eliminate the “bounce” that smartphones occasionally see (the cache appears to move around as you get closer).

The coordinates are on the app or on Geocaching.com. If you like geocaching, you can go further by hiding a geocache and be the owner to maintain it. There are events for geocachers along with special types of caches.

The view from one geocache in South Carolina.

Geocaching has been our excuse to ride our bikes on country roads or to take a hike. It’s just an extra push to get out there.

Personally, we rarely open the cache but just mark it as found on our account. We enjoy the search, even if we don’t find the cache every time.

Geocaching can be a great family activity. This gets the family outdoors with an easy goal. It isn’t all about finding the cache. It’s about looking for it in some pretty cool places.

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Coming full circle: The 2019 Healy Arms Arizona State IDPA Championship

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2019 is a new year for me in many ways, including a fresh start in both my personal and professional lives. It only seemed fitting that my first shooting competition of the new year would be in the organization that I started with what seems like a lifetime ago, IDPA.

I began competition shooting as an extension of my law enforcement career after the horrific Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting. When I first read the news story, I asked myself if I could make a headshot on a body armor-wearing suspect in a panicked, crowded movie theater. I wasn’t happy with my answer when I was being completely honest with myself.

I immediately sought out my local IDPA club after learning that IDPA emphasized defensive and scenario-based shooting that seemed to offer what I was looking for. My first match left me feeling painfully slow while watching the other experienced shooters, and showed me how much I had to learn. Instead of discouragement, I found a challenge and excitement for my next match and my love for competition shooting was born.

The 2019 Healy Arms Arizona State IDPA Championship gave me an opportunity to evaluate my skills all these years later and decide if the journey had improved my original answer to that life-and-death question.

The 2019 Healy Arms Arizona State IDPA Championship was hosted at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club and run by match director Eric VanHaaster. Eric consistently puts on efficient and well-run events and the match started exactly on time as it always does. The Arizona weather was outstanding that morning and several of my squad mates from last year had again made the long trek from Michigan to escape the freezing north and bask in the Phoenix sunshine.

Variety is the spice of life, and I often try new divisions and change things up frequently to keep learning and improving on a variety of firearms platforms. I opted to compete for the first time in the CDP Division with my Fusion Firearms 1911 I had picked up in a scorching deal from my shooting teammate.

The horse prop that kicked off the match.

My first stage of the match was the exact same stage I ended on the year before, the crowd favorite simulated horseback stage. This year the props department upped the ante by including a fresh pile of horse manure behind the prop, which was probably a teeny-tiny step too far in the realistic defense shooting department.

We all got a good laugh at the joke and ignored the smell as the first shooters began to navigate the relatively quick stage. The start position was seated on top of the horse with your weapon resting on a flat surface, one hand on the reigns of the horse and the other with a toy sword resting on the shoulder of a no-shoot target.

On the buzzer, you retrieved your pistol and had to lean left and right around several no-shoots, engaging in a series of increasing-in-range target arrays. On first glance, the stage is a thoughtless endeavor, but the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club has one small nuance to it; the blinding Arizona sun coming over the mountains in the morning.

At certain times it’s hard to see for about an hour during our weekly matches and I was hurrying the shooters in front of me along before the sun broke the peak. I could see the mountain getting brighter and brighter as the sun rose and, unfortunately, time was not on my side. I could see as I sat down on the horse to begin the stage that one of the targets was a brown blur against the blinding light pouring over the mountain peak.

Once the buzzer sounded, I worked the stage up to that point and aimed at the blurry center of the target and hoped for the best. After I completed the stage, my hits on the hidden target held up and I breathed a sigh of relief as the first stage jitters began to dissipate. The match was off to a good start.

The next stage started with some hands-on interaction. Three threat targets at point-blank range stood in front of you and you were required to hold down a swinging target with your dominant shooting hand to start the stage. At the buzzer, you released the target causing it to rapidly swing back and forth in front of you as you engaged the three targets and navigated the rest of the stage along a shooting fence line.

This proved to be trickier than it sounded and some shooters who failed to take a big enough step back got a nasty whack on their hands from the swinging targets. A few shooters nearly lost the grips on their weapons, which would have been a match DQ. Having the no-shoot target whizzing by your face as you engaged targets was a fun rush if you managed not to get your hands whacked to end your match.

Our squad worked through the next few stages and then broke for the traditional lunch from Firehouse Subs. IDPA never leaves you hungry, and the lunches were quickly consumed as we all traded range war stories and tried to compare our results to other shooters and squads.

We moved on to the chronograph and inspection stage, which featured a cool new addition to this year’s chronograph process. Gone are the days of shadow boxes and sunshades as the match featured a table-top radar chronograph from LabRadar.

The LabRadar chronograph simplifies the chrono process.

If you haven’t seen one yet, they are about the size of an iPad and stand vertically next to you on the firing table. You no longer have to wait for a ceasefire to collect your equipment or make an adjustment. It can sit right next to you while prone or from any other position. This piece of equipment is going on my shortlist of future purchases.

This tight hallway headshot was the most difficult of the match.

The next stage featured the hardest shots of the match and was the one I had been waiting for. You started the stage with your hands flat on a solid wall and, on the buzzer, you worked around the wall to a simulated hallway. A paper target concealed a popper that, when activated, presented an impossibly fast turning no-shoot target that gave you one look at the required paper target behind it.

The only viable option was to fire your two required rounds on the paper popper combo and then take two headshots at about 20 yards with the no-shoot directly under the neck of the head. After the difficult hallway shots, you navigated a few more twists and turns and engaged targets. If you missed your earlier headshots, you could make up the shots at about 10 yards.

The theater scenario that brought me to competition shooting all those years ago lay in front of me and I was about to find out if these years of work had made a difference. At the buzzer, I made my way to the hallway and activated the popper with two quick shots.

A quick turn of the no-shoot target came and went and I carefully aimed my headshots and squeezed two rounds off. I continued working the stage, and as I fired my last shots, I didn’t bother to look if made my hits or not as I wanted to know if I made them the first time, when they counted the most.

As I walked to the headshot target for scoring I could see two, large .45 caliber holes in the head of the target and not a mark on the no-shoot. If anything, the last several years of shooting has allowed me to pick up a weapon like the 1911 I rarely use and make tight headshots if I need to, hopefully on the range and in the real-world if I ever need to.

No matter how the rest of the match turned out, I was satisfied with this one small moment of victory. Everything else was just icing on the cake.

Healy Arms shooters picking up multiple CCP awards.

Ironically, the last stage of the match created a similar scenario. It included another paper target concealing a steel popper that released another headshot-only target in front of a no-shoot target. With my confidence already riding high, I finished the match with two additional hostage-style headshots and my match was complete. We all gathered at the prize table as the awards were handed out including division winners:

SSP: Eric France (overall match winner and high law enforcement)
CCP: Jacob Wedge
CDP: Eric VanHaaster
ESP: Brian Puller
Revolver: Jason Steiber

Though I didn’t receive a division plaque or any special accolades in the match, I received something I cherished more: the peace of mind I had sought all those years ago while I pondered that nightmare theater shooting scenario.

I still have a lot to improve in my shooting skillset, and my journey and training continue. We all shoot IDPA and competitions for a variety of reasons and each of us finds fulfillment in chasing those reasons. 2019 will continue to be a rebuilding year for me and I’m excited for what small and large victories the rest of the year will bring in my shooting, professional and personal lives.

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Travel2020: Ski season 2019 sees peak snow, peak prices

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U.S. ski resorts are having a very good year. Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada is now at 100 percent of where it should be and ski areas from the Pacific to the Atlantic are reporting a good season so far. So where should skiers go to catch dream-quality powder in 2019?

It depends on their pocketbooks. A recent survey of average day rates at popular ski resorts around the country shows that Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, takes the summit for top prices.

A study conducted by Cheaphotels.org compared 20 well-known ski resorts based on cost of lodging with the average price for the cheapest available double room projected for the months of February and March 2019. Only hotels ranked at least three stars and located inside a ski resort were considered.

At Deer Valley, guests spend on average $543 per night for the least expensive double room — by far the highest rate among all destinations considered. Colorado’s Beaver Creek came in second-highest at $416 per night, and then Alta resort in Utah came in third at a slightly more affordable rate.

Park City Mountain Resort, located just a few miles from Deer Valley, ranks 10th priciest at an average room rate of $243 per night. In California, Squaw Valley is the priciest ski resort, ranking fifth most expensive overall at an average rate of $302 per night.

At a glance, the following list shows the 20 most expensive ski resorts in the United States, with the rates to the right reflecting the average price for the cheapest available double room from Feb. 1 to March 31.

  1. Deer Valley (UT) $543
  2. Beaver Creek (CO) $416
  3. Alta (UT) $413
  4. Vail (CO) $307
  5. Squaw Valley (CA) $302
  6. Breckenridge (CO) $302
  7. Teton Village (WY) $292
  8. Aspen (CO) $283
  9. Northstar (CA) $264
  10. Park City (UT) $243
  11. Big Sky (MT) $242
  12. Keystone (CO) $228
  13. Telluride (CO) $197
  14. Snowmass (CO) $195
  15. Avon (CO) $183
  16. Steamboat Springs (CO) $176
  17. Crested Butte (CO) $174
  18. Mammoth Mountain (CA) $168
  19. Sun Valley (ID) $166
  20. Killington (VT) $157

Last year saw an estimated 53.3 million skier and snowboarder visits, down slightly (2.8 percent) from the year before. Ski areas in the Midwest experienced an impressive rebound, as skier visits grew by 17 percent in that region to 6.4 million visits, according to The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA).

The Southeast region had a strong season last year, up 3.6 percent to 4.3 million visits, while the Northeast region held steady at 11.8 million visits, down slightly from the previous season. The Rocky Mountain, Pacific Northwest, and Pacific Southwest regions were down slightly more, ranging between -5 and -14 percent.

Safe Skiing

Because the snowpack this year is that much more inviting in this peak snow season, safety has become that much more of a concern. The NSAA counted 37 reported fatal incidents during the 2017-18 season, the majority of them resulting from collisions with other skiers, trees or man-made objects. Unsurprisingly, 90 percent of these fatalities were suffered by males. The good news is that the number reflects a decrease of 19 percent from the 2016-17 season total.

While avalanches are another danger to skiers, the NSAA reports only eight deaths from these occurrences in the past decade. That said, they are most likely to happen within the backcountry around ski resorts.

The backcountry terrain outside of a ski area’s operating boundary is not patrolled or mitigated for avalanches by ski patrol. Skiers/snowboarders venturing into this terrain should be equipped with some degree of snow safety education and standard avalanche rescue gear (beacon, shovel, probe). Backcountry travelers should always ski/ride with a partner, and should ask ski patrol or the local avalanche center about current snow conditions.

Photos courtesy of Deer Valley Ski Resort.

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