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Tag Archives: Leisure

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Optimism beckons for 2020-21 deer hunting season in Texas

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It’s always nice to get a little bit of good news, and that’s especially true with everything that’s been going on lately. Though 2020 has been an eventful year to this point, hunting season is fast approaching in the Lone Star State and things are looking great for both whitetail and mule deer.

Texas received plentiful spring rains this year that were well-distributed across most of the state. Those rains came just in time to provide plentiful food for wildlife as the state transitioned from winter into spring, which should bode well for both fawn recruitment and antler growth.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) White-tailed Deer Program Leader Alan Cain:

“From a statewide perspective, hunters might expect to see a higher proportion of bucks in the 6.5 to 8.5-year age classes as a result of above average fawn crop in previous corresponding years while other age classes reflect a more even distribution. While doe harvest has been down slightly in the last couple of years, which is likely contributing to a widening ratio of does to bucks, the good news for hunters is that there should be plenty of carryover from previous years.”

On the mule deer front, TPWD implemented new regulations that prohibited hunters from harvesting bucks with a spread less than 20” in Briscoe, Childress, Cottle, Floyd, Hall, and Motley counties back in 2018. Lynn County joined that group in 2019.

TPWD implemented those restrictions in order to improve buck to doe ratios as well as the buck age structure in the deer population. Basically, hunters were shooting far too many bucks (primarily young bucks) prior to the implementation of those restrictions. This resulted in an age structure skewed heavily towards younger deer and a buck to doe ratio of around 5 to 1.

In each county, overall buck harvest dropped in the first year of restrictions. However, things improved rapidly: reduced hunting pressure on younger deer resulted in many bucks that would have been harvested prior to the restrictions reaching older age. This has helped improve buck to doe ratios (now around 3 to 1) and the overall health of the deer population in the area.

Year two of the antler restrictions saw older bucks comprise a significantly larger share of the harvest with 5 ½ or older deer now making up about 51% of the harvest (up from 33%). Hunters are also reporting seeing more as well as larger and more mature bucks. Recent TPWD aerial surveys back up these observations.

Hopefully, these trends will continue and, combined with favorable weather across the state in the spring, will result in a great 2020-21 deer season in Texas.

Archery season opens for both whitetail and mule deer on Oct. 3. The general season opens on Nov. 7 for whitetail deer and on either Nov. 21 or Nov. 27 for mule deer.

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Should you build your own custom car?

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Are you the sort of person who loves cars? Do you love to tinker and make alterations and additions to your vehicle? If so, a custom car might be a really appealing project for you. Should you build your own custom car? Or should you opt for stripping out an existing vehicle and making changes to it?

Whether you see yourself as the next Elon Musk or you just want to ensure you have the coolest vehicle out of anyone you know, it is possible to build your own custom car, but is it something you should bother with?

Check What is Legal

Building a custom car can definitely be done. If you have spent time learning how to tune your own car already, then there is a chance that you already know some of the aspects of designing a car, and if you have studied mechanics then you will have a good grounding in the world of car alterations.

The number one consideration is what is legal in the area where you live. For example, in some parts of the world, the legal regulations relating to building a car might be so extensive that building would require a lot of staff and a spectacular level of planning.

For example, there might be restrictions based on the chassis, and you may not be allowed to weld it yourself without proving you have certain plans and equipment.

Even if it is allowed, there are so many restrictions around it in some locations that you might find that building totally from scratch is a huge project. That doesn’t mean hope is lost, though.

Consider a Kit Car

Some people purchase what is called a “kit” car. Effectively, this has all of the parts you need to create the car yourself, with the added bonus of being from a specific manufacturer, the plans will be included and the parts are made with road legality in mind.

It is normally much easier to get your kit car through any road legality tests (these vary from state to state and country to country) than it is if you have made it totally from scratch. The parts will have been tried and tested by many other drivers of the same, or similar vehicles.

The appeal is still there for many people and lots of forms of customization are possible if you buy this kind of car. You can still make tweaks and alterations to put your own signature on a car, it is just far easier to put together in a legal and roadworthy way.

Customizing an Existing Car

This is the option that a lot of people end up going for. At least by purchasing an existing car you know that it will be recognized and suitable to take on the road, and that it has gone through rigorous factory tests before being approved to go to a customer.

It might not feel as “original” but there is still a lot you can do with these cars including replacing the engine, changing the suspension, and loads of different aspects of design and cosmetics.

What About Driving Away From Public Roads?

If you are planning to build a custom car and not take it on the roads, for example, if you have access to a track, this might be a little simpler to do. You won’t have to seek the same permissions as you would if using the car on the roads shared by others.

Be warned, this can still impact your insurances, so check that your health insurance will cover you if you have any accidents on a private track.

Conclusion

In the privacy of your own garage, you are definitely free to experiment with customizing and building cars. This is a great way to learn more about how cars work and other aspects of automotive design. However, when it is time to take it on the road, there might be certain tests to pass.

It is very hard, time-consuming, and often difficult to get approval to actually use your custom car. For this reason, many people opt for using an existing car and making alterations to it instead of starting totally from scratch.

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Infographic: Move over, VR — XR sports are the future

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The popularity of virtual reality experiences, including augmented and mixed reality, is on the rise. But there’s a new kid on the block in this sector — extended reality, or XR. Check out this infographic to learn more about XR and why it will be an $18 billion market by 2023.

Infographic courtesy Sportstacular

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8 US museums you might not know about

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America loves its museums. There are more than 35,000 of them scattered across the country, and while many are temporarily closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can look forward to their reopening soon.

The nation’s museums range from opulent and influential to obscure and offbeat. It is the latter category that most intrigues us — those unusual, lesser-known institutions that curate the unexpected. Here are eight such museums.

American Windmill Museum, Lubbock, Texas

Windy West Texas is the perfect place to display the world’s largest collection of historic windmills. There are more than 160 fully restored windmills spread out over 28 acres, and they serve to demonstrate the function, importance and history of windmills for water collection across the American West.

More than 100 of the windmills stand inside a giant 30,000-square-foot building and another 60 are displayed on the grounds outside. The museum’s largest wind machine is a 660KW Vestas wind turbine with a 154-foot diameter wheel and stands on a 165-foot-tall tower.

www.windmill.com, 806-747-8734

American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, New York City

Man’s best friend is well represented at this museum, home to one of the largest collections of canine-related art in the world. Relocated from St. Louis, Missouri, in late 2018, the museum’s new Park Avenue home in midtown Manhattan provides far greater exposure for the collection that consists of paintings and bronze and ceramic sculptures, artifacts, dynamic exhibits and occasional real-life interactions with famous canines.

On display is artwork by renowned artists, including Edwin Landseer, Maud Earl and Arthur Wardle. Exhibits feature dogs in films, war dogs, dogs of presidents and dogs in exploration.

www.museumofthedog.org, 212-696-8360

Cannabition, Las Vegas

Vegas’ newest museum — and the first marijuana museum anywhere that we know about — is a veritable wonderland of weed for visiting potheads. Currently undergoing a move from its original Fremont Street location to Planet 13, a popular marijuana dispensary situated just off the Strip, the museum is slated to reopen on Dec. 1, 2020.

With plenty of visuals aimed at encouraging selfies — such as the world’s largest bong, lifesize faux marijuana buds and a pool full of foam weed nuggets — it is an enthusiastic booster of recreational pot. There are some educational exhibits, including a model cannabis-growing facility, but the museum isn’t exactly the Smithsonian of marijuana. Although recreational pot is legal in Nevada, visitors can’t light up at Cannabition — but regulations are expected to be relaxed in the future.

www.cannabition.com, 702-815-1313 (for Planet 13)

Delta Flight Museum, Atlanta

Flyers with time to kill at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport should spend their layover at this excellent museum housing a century’s worth of aviation history. The headline attraction here is the museum’s flight simulator — the only full-motion simulator in the U.S. that’s available to the public. Most novice pilots will crash land their 737 — but you’ll hear an occasional whoop of joy when someone brings the jet down safely.

Housed in two World War II-era hangars (a short taxi or Uber ride from the airport), the museum offers a number of planes to explore, ranging from a Huff-Daland crop duster to the first 747-400 that Boeing ever built. A guided tour even takes visitors out onto one of the 747’s wings — an experience that always elicits lots of oohs and aahs. Memorabilia on display includes a collection of flight attendant uniforms, pre-flight checklists, books and photos capturing Delta’s 95 years of service.

www.deltamuseum.org, 404-715-7886

Museum of Death, New Orleans

No getting around it — this is one macabre attraction. It is a spin-off from a Los Angeles museum of the same name — and for those with a fascination with death, it checks all the boxes. At the NOLA site, which sits a block from Bourbon Street at 227 Dauphine Street, galleries are filled with antique embalming tools, artifacts and letters once belonging to serial killers, taxidermy instruments, an assortment of human bones and skulls and body bags.

Also on display is the euthanasia device invented by Dr. Jack Kevorkian (the famous “Dr. Death”) and a collection of Manson Family memorabilia. It’s creepy, but as curator Scott Healy says, “The museum isn’t about sensationalizing death. It’s meant to probe both our obsessions and discomforts with death.”

www.museumofdeath.net, 504-593-3968

Underwater Museum of Art, South Walton, Florida

Hardly your ordinary museum, UMA is a fascinating subaquatic exhibition that’s home to some incredible sculptures, presented in an ever-changing environment of marine wildlife. America’s first underwater museum is located off the coast of Grayton Beach State Park and it displays seven sculptures, including a giant skull by artist Vince Tatum and an octopus by Allison Wickey — the mastermind behind the museum.

UMA is a project of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, who assures us that sculptures are fashioned from environmentally sustainable materials — no plastics, toxins or other pollutants allowed. The museum is located about a mile offshore at a depth of 58 feet, so visitors need to pick up the coordinates from the state park visitor center and dive to the site.

www.umafl.org, 850-622-5970

Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.

It may be one of the least visited of the famous Smithsonian museums in the nation’s capital, but it’s fascinating nonetheless — and for stamp collectors of all ages, it is an absolute must.

Opened in 1993, it showcases the largest and most comprehensive collection of stamps and philatelic material in the world, including postal stationery, mailboxes, meters and delivery vehicles — including airplanes from the early days of airmail. Heavy on history, the museum’s virtual exhibitions offer a stirring look at America’s postal history from Colonial times to the present.

www.postalmuseum.si.edu, 202-633-5555

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Money Museum, Chicago

Money is certainly one of the most vital elements in our lives and here is a museum that helps explain how and why that is. Exhibits range from rare and historical U.S. currency to the challenges of printing money and detecting counterfeit attempts. Among the artifacts are treasures like a well-preserved Pine Tree Shilling from Colonial times and bank notes from both sides of the Civil War.

There’s a special exhibit about Alexander Hamilton, who helped create America’s financial system and who has enjoyed a posthumous return to prominence, thanks to the hit Broadway show named for him. While the museum is all about money, admission is free (valid government-issued ID required for adults age 18 and over).

www.chicagofed.org, 312-322-5322

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TPWD now accepting drawn hunt applications for 2020-21 season

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It’s that time of year again: the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is now accepting applications through the Texas Public Hunt system for the 2020-2021 season. This year, the state is offering over 9,000 permits on nearly 100 different hunting areas in Texas to hunt a variety of different big game, exotic, small game, upland bird, and waterfowl species.

In particular, the Texas Public Hunt System is offering permits to hunt alligator, axis deer, aoudad, sambar deer, Corsican sheep, Catalina goat, gemsbok, scimitar-horned oryx, feral hogs, whitetail deer, mule deer, javelina, pronghorn, turkey, bighorn sheep, dove, quail, squirrel, rabbits, waterfowl, and pheasant this year.

These hunts take place literally all over the state from the Rio Grande Valley, to the Trans-Pecos, to the Texas Panhandle, to the Hill Country, to the Piney Woods of East Texas, and all along the Gulf Coast. Among other hunting areas, people can apply for the chance to hunt on recent additions to the list of available properties like the Powderhorn Ranch on the Gulf Coast near Victoria, the Roger Fawcett WMA east of Fort Worth, and the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge north of Dallas.

These hunts are also extremely reasonably priced, especially when compared to the cost of drawn hunts in other states. Depending on the exact hunting category, application fees for adults aged 17 or older are either $3 or $10. If drawn for a hunt, permit fees for adults are either $80 or $130 for the regular drawn hunts.

However, certain hunts do not have any permit fees for adults and there are no application or permit fees for all youth-only hunts. To top it off, while some hunts just offer the successful applicant the opportunity to access a certain area to hunt, other hunts are fully guided and even include food and lodging.

While the situation with COVID-19 is constantly changing and there are still some temporary closures and adjustments to TPWD operations, the state is planning on conducting these hunts as scheduled. Indeed, Gov. Greg Abbott even specifically listed hunting and fishing as “essential daily activities” in his March 31 executive order directing people to minimize nonessential gatherings.

So, while nothing in life is guaranteed, the fact that hunting takes places outdoors and in socially distanced situations makes most of these drawn hunts more resistant to COVID-19-related disruptions than many other activities. All things considered, these hunts are fantastic opportunities to enjoy some time outdoors this fall and winter.

Application deadlines vary, but the first deadline is Aug. 1, 2020 for the alligator, alligator management, private lands dove, private lands pronghorn, pronghorn, and youth-only alligator categories. Deadlines for the other categories occur on Aug. 15, Sept. 1, Sept. 15, Oct. 1, and Oct. 15. For details on all the hunt application deadlines, visit this webpage.

Visit the Texas drawn hunts webpage to browse full catalog of available hunts for the 2020-221 hunting season, to view permit application statistics and success rates from previous years, or to actually apply for a hunt. TPWD only accepts hunt applications submitted online.

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A look at the most popular cartridges for deer hunting

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Whitetail deer are by far the most popular species of big game pursued by North American hunters. When their blacktail and mule deer cousins are factored in, millions of American hunters go afield after deer each fall and winter. Archery hunters make up a significant chunk of that number, but the remainder hunt with an incredible array of different shotguns, handguns, centerfire rifles, and muzzleloaders.

While those hunters carry a wide assortment of different firearms afield, most hunters tend to use one of a handful of different cartridges for hunting. Here are a few of the most popular.

.30-30 Winchester

The .30-30 Winchester first came on the scene in the late 1800s, but it’s still an incredibly popular hunting cartridge, especially for those who like using lever-action rifles. The old .30-30 doesn’t have eye popping ballistics, but it’s still more than powerful enough for most deer hunters, especially those hunting in thicker conditions where short to medium range encounters with game are the norm.

Add in the fact that the .30-30 is most commonly available in easy to carry and fast pointing lever-action rifles like the Marlin 336 and the Winchester 1894, and it’s no surprise why the .30-30 Winchester is still so popular with deer hunters to this day.

.30-06 Springfield (308)

Adopted by the U.S. military in the early years of the 20th century, the .30-06 Springfield was also a big hit among American hunters. Indeed, hunters all over the world have developed a strong affinity for the .30-06 and it has seen widespread use in Africa, Alaska, Australia, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand (among many other places) as well.

The .30-06 Springfield was one of the most powerful and flat shooting cartridges in common use at the beginning of the 20th century, but there are many other options available to hunters these days who are looking for something that hits a little harder or shoots a little flatter. That said, there’s not a darn thing wrong with the .30-06. It’s still an excellent all-around hunting cartridge and it remains a big favorite among American deer hunters to this day.

.270 Winchester

Closely related to the .30-06 Springfield, the .270 Winchester was introduced in the 1920s and shoots a smaller diameter and lighter bullet at a significantly faster velocity. As a result, the .270 has a very flat trajectory and less recoil than the .30-06, but it’s also still extremely effective on thin-skinned game like deer, pronghorn, and sheep.

Those characteristics helped make the .270 an ideal choice for hunters like Jack O’Connor, who did a lot of hunting out west and needed a little more reach than most eastern whitetail hunters. However, the .270 was such an outstanding performer on deer-sized game that it’s still regarded as one of the best cartridges for deer hunters all over the country to this day.

.243 Winchester

Developed by necking a .308 Winchester cartridge down to shoot .243” (6mm) bullets, the .243 Winchester has a similar relationship to the .308 as the .270 does to the .30-06. The little .243 Winchester cartridge has a very mild recoil that makes it great for smaller framed or new hunters but is still more than powerful enough to ethically take even the biggest whitetail, mule, or blacktail deer.

That said, .243 is not just limited to children or inexperienced hunters either. It’s a sweet shooting cartridge that’s well suited for deer hunters of all ages, sizes, and experience levels.

.223 Remington

It’s not legal for deer hunting in every state, but the .223 Remington is an underrated choice for hunters where it’s legal to hunt with. This is especially true for hunters who want to use an AR platform.

Some people still consider the diminutive .223/5.56 NATO cartridge too light for hunting big game, but advances in bullet technology in recent years have dramatically improved the efficacy of the cartridge on small to medium sized game. At ranges inside 100 yards and when using a robustly constructed hunting bullet, the .223 Remington is absolutely deadly on deer.

.300 Winchester Magnum

On the other end of the spectrum from the .223 Remington we have the .300 Winchester Magnum. Also known as the .300 Win Mag, this cartridge is flat shooting and delivers heavy hitting performance at long range. With that in mind, the .300 Win Mag is well suited for hunters who need a rifle cartridge with a lot of reach as well as those who want a single rifle for hunting game ranging in size from pronghorn and deer all the way up to elk and moose.

The .300 Winchester Magnum will certainly get the job done on a wide range of game, but the impressive ballistics of the cartridge come at the expense of recoil. Many hunters use rifles with a muzzle brake to help tame recoil, but muzzle brakes also enhance muzzle blast. If you elect to go down that route, make sure you wear appropriate ear protection while hunting as well as at the range.

6.5 Creedmoor

Originally developed for competition shooters, the 6.5 Creedmoor is a relative newcomer to the hunting community. However, many hunters have discovered just how effective the sweet shooting and mild recoiling cartridge on game like deer and pronghorn. Not surprisingly, the 6.5 Creedmoor is now one of the most popular deer hunting cartridges in use in North America.

.350 Legend

Hunters in many Midwestern states were restricted to using either archery equipment or muzzleloaders and shotguns loaded with buckshot or slugs for many years. Fortunately, some of those states are starting to loosen their regulations and many now permit the use of straight walled cartridges like the .450 Bushmaster during rifle season.

While the .450 Bushmaster (and similar cartridges) will undoubtedly work in that role, the folks at Winchester worked to fill that gap with a purpose designed cartridge. The result was the .350 Legend: a .357” straight walled cartridge designed to comply with the regulations in those Midwestern states and still provide adequate performance on deer. They were largely successful in accomplishing those goals, and the .350 Legend is rapidly gaining in popularity among hunters restricted to using straight walled cartridges.

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Some airlines issuing refunds to passengers failing temperature checks at airports

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While airports are busy creating new methods for screening passengers for cases of COVID-19 before they board their planes, some airlines are essentially thanking those passengers for not getting on by refunding their tickets. To that end, new thermal screens are being tested at airports to help stem spread of the virus by grounding passengers over any signs of fever.

Last month, thermal cameras were installed at Los Angeles International Airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal, commonly called “Tbit,” as a beta testing location at the world’s third busiest airport. Supporting these efforts, Airlines for America (A4A), an industry trade organization for several U.S. airlines, announced they are supporting these gateway temperature screening programs for the traveling public and will do so for as long as necessary during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

At LAX, the new thermal system is a voluntary program with signage alerting passengers where this trial will take place. If a voluntary participant is identified as having an elevated body temperature, a medical professional near the camera operator will approach the identified person and request a secondary screening using a handheld, non-contact thermometer. Departing guests who are identified as having an elevated body temperature will be advised that they should not travel. Passengers on arriving international flights identified as being potentially ill may be referred to CDC staff on-site.

Airport thermal camera temperature checks are not expected to replace other safety measures in place, including health checks conducted by individual airline companies. To protect guest privacy, the cameras do not store, transmit, or share any data or images taken. Guests who decline to participate will have the opportunity to use a different pathway.

“TSA has strong partnerships with airports throughout the country in providing for the security of our aviation system. While TSA has no direct role in this pilot, as with any major initiative in one of our airports, TSA has been kept well informed by LAX officials and we will stay in close contact with them as the thermal imaging pilot proceeds. The outstanding level of communication between LAX airport, the airlines who provide service there and TSA are important in providing safe and secure travel for passengers using LAX to meet their transportation needs,” said Lorie Dankers, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). She noted that the LAX pilot does not take place in or around the TSA security checkpoint that no decisions have been made regarding the agency’s specific health screening measures at airports. TSA continues to rely on the health expertise of HHS and the CDC.

Temperature checks are one of several public health measures recommended by the CDC amid the COVID-19 pandemic and will add an extra layer of protection for passengers as well as airline and airport employees.

Airlines for America (A4A), the trade organization representing several U.S. legacy carriers such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines, announced that its members have voluntarily offered “to refund tickets for any passenger who is found to have an elevated temperature — as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines — during a screening process conducted by federal authorities prior to travel.”

In April, A4A’s member carriers announced the requirement of the wearing face coverings by employees and passengers throughout the journey — during check-in, boarding, in-flight and deplaning. Last month, major U.S. carriers announced they are actively enforcing those face covering policies and deplaning passengers refusing to comply.

Temperature checks and face coverings are part of the multi-layered approach that airlines are implementing to mitigate risk of exposure and infection and to protect the health and well-being of passengers and employees. Airlines are also implementing intensive cleaning protocols, in some cases to include electrostatic cleaning and fogging procedures to sanitize cockpits, cabins and key touchpoints with CDC-approved disinfectants.

Airlines for America (A4A) members include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines, FedEx, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and UPS. Air Canada is an associate member.

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3 things to do before hunting with a muzzleloader

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Have you decided to hunt with a muzzleloader this fall/winter? There are number of advantages involved with going afield with muzzleloader, but there are also some unique challenges associated with doing so. Here are some important things to do prior to hunting season to ensure that you’re ready to go on opening day.

Test Out New Loads

Unfortunately, working up a new muzzleloader load isn’t always very simple. Not only can it sometimes be challenging to find a load that shoots accurately, but hunters also typically run into more ignition problems with muzzleloaders than with centerfire rifles.

However, the very nature of a muzzleloader makes it pretty easy to develop a custom load by trying out new powders, primers, and muzzleloader bullets. So, if you’re having ignition issues or if you’re not happy with the accuracy you’re getting with a certain load, swap out different components and see what happens.

For instance, while pre-measured pellets are really fast and easy to load, I’ve personally had better results all around with loose powder than with pelletized powder. Not only is it usually easier to ignite, but all my most accurate and precise muzzleloader loads have used either loose Triple Seven or Blackhorn 209.

Standard 209 primers usually provide great ignition with a variety of powders. However, if you experience hangfires when using Blackhorn 209, it might be your primers. Run-of-the-mill 209 primers sometimes work, but the manufacturer recommends using either Federal 209A or CCI 209M primers with Blackhorn 209, and I’ve never had an issue when using either of those primers.

Sighting In

It’s always a good idea to verify your zero prior to hunting, especially if you’ve made a change to your old setup. Properly sighting in your muzzleloader is absolutely essential, but it’s also very important to determine where your bullet impacts at other ranges as well with a particular zero.

Muzzleloaders often have a very arching trajectory and, with a 100-yard zero, it’s not unusual to see quite a bit of bullet drop at even 150 yards with certain loads. There are lots of great muzzleloader scopes out there, some of which utilize reticles with holdover points for various ranges.

In my experience, those reticles are roughly correct, but they’re usually far from exact. It’s fine if you want to use them, but make sure you verify your bullet impact at the range with those reticles before actually going hunting. I’ve encountered several instances where my bullet impact was 3-6” higher or lower than expected when using the 150- or 200-yard mark on one of these scopes.

Get The Right Equipment

I like to carry some additional muzzleloader supplies with me while I’m hunting that aren’t really necessary at the range.

First, I always bring a few speed loaders. They can hold a couple of extra bullets and pre-measured powder charges to help speed up the reloading process in cases where a follow up shot is necessary.

Second, I always cover my muzzle with something like a balloon or a piece of tape (don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe to do this). This prevents unwanted items from entering the barrel on a hunt without my knowledge.

Finally, I like to carry a couple of additional primers in a waterproof container and in an easy to access pocket while I’m actually hunting. Especially when hunting in really cold and/or wet conditions, it’s not unusual to have a misfire at the moment of truth. Fortunately, a fresh primer or two will often do the trick and it’s really nice to have a few handy if needed.

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Dream and plan with travel lists

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Whether you are still traveling or parked somewhere on a coronavirus timeout, you can dream and plan your next trip. I like having lists of places to visit. Some can be travel destinations while others may just be quick stops along the way that you don’t want to miss. Here are some ideas.

Maybe Hoover Dam is on your bucket list.

Bucket List

This is the big one. It really does help to make a bucket list to give you a goal. A trip can easily be built around these places. Bucket lists can be big places like the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, or Mount Rushmore. Or, it can be places like your great-grandmother’s grave in a distant state.

These places are worth the time to you personally. You can also make an activity type of bucket list. We have parasailed in the Gulf, canoed the Mississippi River, took a raft trip down the Snake River, and kayaked in Antelope Canyon. We still want to zip line sometime, so it is on our list. Maybe you want to take a helicopter ride. These are items you can fit into your trip when it makes sense.

We loved our special trip to check off Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

States

Most RVers have a state list. This can be the RV state stickers map that you can put on the side of your RV. These are great as a conversation starter with fellow RVers. We just have a list on the computer where we keep track of the states we’ve visited (we are at 44 states).

You may want to define this list. We say that our RV and both of us must visit the state to count. This means we don’t have to camp there but we can’t do a day trip in the car to count. Once we drove in our RV along the edge of New Jersey on I-84, but we decided that didn’t count.

National Parks

There are 62 national parks. However, there are 419 locations that include national parks, monuments, lakeshores, memorials, and historic sites that are managed by the National Park Service. The number does change over the years so, every once in a while, we update the list.

We’ve visited 154 and never expect to see them all but it does give us a push to visit places we wouldn’t have considered. Our definition here is that we both have to visit but the RV does not need to be here. Google “national park units” to get a list from the Wikipedia site.

Fun Lists

It is fun to have a list or two that you find interesting. Many people set a goal to visit all 30 of the major league baseball stadiums in the United States while others add the minor league stadiums, too.

Another list might be the 76 CCC statues that can be found in various parks throughout the country. One list could be to visit the ~64 Spanish missions and presidios in Florida and from Texas through California. Or, Wikipedia lists 215 forts built on our ocean costs. How about visiting the light houses along both ocean coasts, the Gulf, the Great Lakes, and even nowhere near water like the two in Nebraska?

Another list might be the 132 national cemeteries along with 33 soldiers’ lots and monuments. Some lists can be quite unique like the ~73 wood statues found on artist Peter Wolf Toth’s “Trail of the Whispering Giants.” Go local by deciding to visit all the state parks in your state. Whatever makes sense for you is great!

If you aren’t traveling right now, at least you can keep dreaming of your next trip with these lists. Do you have an interesting list?

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Busting the myth of the iron grip for shooting

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This article originally appeared on Dry Fire Training Cards.

For some reason, I’ve been getting questions and finding myself in conversations about grip quite a bit lately.

Now, there’s a lot of misinformation on grip…especially on how firmly you should grip; how to improve grip; and what to do about reduced grip from arthritis, carpal tunnel, and other pain issues.

Take the 100% grip or “iron grip” as an example.

Grab anything with 100% grip and your hand is going to shake.

Drop off to the max intensity that you can grip without shaking, and your ability to isolate trigger finger movement is going to be compromised.

Grab a grip dynamometer and try to hold max grip and you’ll see that it drops off by 20% or more in the first 5-10 seconds. (This happens if the person gripping thinks they’re maintaining the exact same force.)

When gripping causes pain, it’s not unusual to see grip strength drop in half in seconds.

So, what’s the answer?

How firmly should I grip?

In short, your sights will tell you.

What you want to do is find the maximum intensity that you can grip the gun and still run the trigger without disturbing sight alignment. (The easiest way to do this is with Dry Fire Cord.)

Grip firmer than that and accuracy will suffer.

Grip looser than that and your recoil management will be less efficient and effective.

But that magic intensity will maximize accuracy and recoil management.

Over time, you want to increase the intensity that you can grip the gun and still run the trigger without disturbing the sights. That’s what the rest of this article is about…

The value of excess capacity

There’s an idea of excess capacity that becomes really important with grip strength.

My friend Mike Gillette is a world record holder and has a lot of excess capacity.

That’s not a reality for most people, but excess capacity is still a goal you want to work towards.

Let’s say that you need 60 pounds of grip strength to shoot ¼ second splits with a 9mm.

That’s much easier to do if your max grip strength is 100 or 150 pounds than if it’s 60. This becomes more and more of a factor the longer you’re shooting.

What does grip intensity tell us?

Grip tends to drop as we age and because of pain, but even when you account for age and pain, grip is interrelated with several different systems in the body.

It’s a better predictor of heart health than your systolic blood pressure reading.

And, grip exercises can have a positive impact on heart health.

Grip intensity is also strongly associated with reduced stroke risk, reduced pneumonia risk, reduced fall risk, increased cognition, and quicker reaction times. Grip intensity has a strong correlation with COPD and in fact, it is a more accurate test for COPD than the 6-minute walk test! (In all of these cases, you have to account for age and pain.)

In short, grip is important.

So, how do you improve grip?

When I’m working with shooters, it’s common for them to have grip issues.

Four different types of grip issues are:

  1. Muscle fibers available (muscle mass)
  2. Quality and quantity of coordinated motor output from the brain
  3. Max intensity you can grip and still isolate trigger finger movement at a given speed (the firmer you grip, the slower you’ll be able to run your trigger finger without disturbing the sights…normally left or low-left)
  4. Pain

There are some ways to help with grip over the long term…like exercise that helps build muscle fibers…but I’ve had to develop methods of helping people get nearly instant improvement in grip strength and trigger finger isolation while we’re at the range standing in front of a target.

Something to keep in mind is that when most of us grip as hard as we can, we’re only activating our muscles with about 50-60% efficiency. That happens because not all of the gripping muscles are being activated in a coordinated way, the strength of the impulse from the brain is reduced, and/or opposing muscles are overly engaged.

In short, most people have a lot of room for immediate improvement in grip strength that can be unlocked with a little brain science.

One thing that most people outside of neurology or rehab therapy aren’t aware of is that the quality and quantity of sensory input to the brain determines the quality (coordination) and quantity (muscle fibers activated) of motor output from the brain.

So, by improving sensory input to the brain, we can almost immediately increase coordinated power output.

As an example, when the brain has an accurate, detailed sensory map of the hand, it will increase motor output for grip vs. when the sensory map is garbled. (Run a jackhammer all day and the sensory map of your hand will be more garbled than if you played piano all day.)

It’s similar to driving in a rainstorm with the wipers on vs. off. It’s much more comfortable to drive fast and hard if you’ve got good sensory (vision) input.

So, I’ll have shooters take a pencil and trace the outside of their hand, tap on their knuckles and fingertips, and it will oftentimes cause an immediate, measurable improvement in grip strength and trigger finger isolation.

Sometimes, I’ll have them do tongue exercises, breathe in a specific way, do eye drills, drills that mobilize the thoracic spine, or — one of my favorite drills — I’ll use a tool like a vibrating toothbrush to hyper-activate the nerves in their fingers.

It creates an immediate awareness of where each and every bone and joint is in the hand and the sensory map of the hand changes from having the resolution of a worn out VHS tape to 4K.

The result is normally a 20-30% increase in grip intensity…sometimes it is over 50%…in just a few minutes.

Once they get home, I have them continue the pencil drills, practice coin rolling, and other drills that help improve the detail of the sensory map of the hand in the brain.

So, yes, it’s definitely beneficial long term to improve strength by doing strength exercises and increasing the number of muscle fibers, but it’s also incredibly important to improve strength through better sensory input and more effective motor output from the brain to the forearm and hand.

Does diet matter?

Yes!

Grip intensity is a relatively quick sign of whether or not your body considered your last meal to be nutritious or a threat…and it’s very possible that three people could eat the exact same meal and each have a different reaction to it, so it’s important to figure out what your body likes and doesn’t like.

Some people can see a noticeable and sometimes extreme decrease in grip strength from MSG or artificial sweeteners within a few minutes of ingesting them.

Inflammation (think bloating after a lunch that didn’t agree with you) can decrease grip strength by an average of 3-6 pounds very quickly. That means some people see no change and others may see a 15-20 pound change. If I eat bad meals, one after another while traveling, within a day or two my fingers will start swelling, joints will hurt, and I’ll have a huge drop in grip strength until I start eating good again.

And food that irritates arthritis or carpal tunnel can cause quick, dramatic drops in grip strength.

Longer term, a 2008 study out of the U.K. showed that each portion of fatty fish that participants ate in a given week increased grip strength by a pound. I’m sure there’s a limit for this, but the study didn’t say.

What about pain?

In general, the brain does not reward activities that cause pain and will oftentimes reduce grip intensity based on pain.

So, if you have arthritis or carpal tunnel and you grip with an intensity that causes pain, chances are good that your brain will reduce the speed and intensity of motor output the next time you try to grip.

There are some ways around this…

For people with carpal tunnel, I have a video in Upgraded Shooter on a series of drills to do to help minimize pain while shooting with carpal tunnel.

For arthritis, anything you can do to minimize inflammation and improve vagal nerve tone will help, including diet and breathing exercises.

The key is to stack the deck as far in your favor as possible so that you can get some reps in without pain. The more reps you can get in without pain, the more comfortable your brain will be with taking the brakes off and gripping quicker and firmer.

The second thing you can do is change the gun you’re shooting. The heavier the gun, lighter the trigger, and lighter the load you’re shooting, the lighter grip you can get away with and the less chance there is that the recoil impulse will cause pain. This may mean shooting a heavier version of your carry gun for practice and may definitely mean shooting a lighter load for practice than what you carry.

To summarize:

  1. The right grip is the firmest grip that you can hold the gun and run the trigger at the speed you want to run it at. (Dry Fire Cord is the easiest/safest way to figure this out.)
  2. Do grip exercises to create excess capacity.
  3. Trace your hand with a pencil and lightly tap on your knuckles to improve the sensory map of your hand. (You may want to try coin-rolling as well.)
  4. Pay attention to how food impacts your grip…chances are good that food that makes a noticeable impact on your grip is having a noticeable impact on several other systems in your body as well.
  5. If pain is an issue, see if avoiding inflammatory foods, slow, deep breathing, and drills to improve vagus nerve tone help.
  6. If carpal tunnel keeps you from enjoying shooting, check out the drills in Upgraded Shooter.
  7. A heavier gun, lighter trigger, and lighter load can compensate for weaker grip.
  8. Is this a little different explanation of grip than what you’ve seen before?

Probably.

Most of what’s written about grip has to do with grip strength and the solutions are blunt-force, grind-it-out solutions that may work for shooters in their 20s, but don’t work so well for anyone older than that.

We need smarter ways to train. And that’s why brain-based training is so important.

Brain-based training allows us to make way more progress, in less time, with less pain than what’s possible with traditional approaches.

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