“Where are the Stars?"
Have you ever wondered how light pollution really impacts what you see in the night sky? Well here's a great 3:29 minute movie titled "Where are the Stars?" that clearly (and beautifully) shows the way ground lights obliterate the stars in the night sky. The film shows how the view of the stars gets progressively better as the light pollution reduces - at every level of light pollution (from Los Angeles to the Great Basin desert).
Marveling at the night sky is one of our favorite activities when we are out camping. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson said: “When you look at the night sky, you realize how small we are within the cosmos,” “It’s kind of resetting of your ego. To deny yourself that state of mind, either willingly or unwittingly, is to not live to the full extent of what it is to be human.”
Lots of Fun at the Shooting Range on a Brisk November Day
Last weekend we went to an all-day (well at least until the sun set at 4:30 PM here in MA) outdoor tactical Shotgun and Carbine Shooting workshop. As with most of you that shoot, the majority of target shooting involves standing in a stationary position and shooting at a single stationary target. Since the Spring a group of us have been meeting once a week to shoot pistol “courses of fire” that involve drawing, moving, reloading and shooting at multiple targets from a variety of ranges from point blank to 25 yards away.
Since these outings have been great for learning and improving our skills (as well as a lot of fun), we decided to have a go at the same type of activities with our shotguns and carbines. For the day everyone brought a shotgun (pump or semi-auto), a carbine (AR-15, AK, 9mm) and their sidearm (Shield, 1911, Sig, Glock, etc.) and plenty of ammo.
We then setup a variety of courses that required people to move, reload, change firearms and shoot. Needless to say it was both challenging and considerably more interesting than stationary shooting. Here are some photos from the day (note the weak Fall sunlight and long shadows):
Items to Take Care of Before a Major Hike
Every year we all hear or read about hikers that got themselves into trouble and no one knew that they were even missing. So here’s a great list from Section Hiker that covers the things that you need to think about, take care of, and/or inform other’s about before you embark on a major hike.
What’s a “major hike”? In our opinion it’s a hike that is more complicated than a couple of hours on a known trail in your local area. So if it’s an overnight trip – this list applies. If it’s a hike that is in an area new to you – this list applies. If it’s a hike in a treacherous area – this list applies. If you are hiking in adverse weather – this list applies. In short, if you have any concerns about the hike you are about to take – this list applies.
Of course, when hiking you also need to take the right gear for the trip. You can download PDFs of our recommended gear lists here:
1) Hiking Gear Checklist
2) Camping Gear Checklist
If you want to read more of Section Hiker’s great advice here the URL to his website:
So What’s with all the Numbers Related to a Shotgun Shell?
Recently I’ve been involved in a couple of discussions about shotgun shells because of all the types of shells and sizes of shot. So, although there is already a lot of information about this on the internet, I’m going to take my turn at explaining the details about shotgun shells using a variety of information and pictures from a wide range of sources.
Shotgun Shells vs Pistol/Rifle Rounds
So first let’s talk about the differences between a Shotgun Shell and a Pistol/Rifle Round. As you can see from the picture below, although they both have analogous parts, a shotgun shell is significantly different from a normal round. They both have a case, but the round’s case is normally a single piece of brass or steel; the shotgun shell’s case has two pieces – a brass head to hold the primer and a plastic case to hold the powder, wad and shot. The brass can be either “High Brass” or “Low Brass” - with higher power loads more likely to have “High Brass” even though the utility of the additional brass is questionable due to the strength of today’s plastic cases. All modern shotgun shells use centerfire primers located in the bottom center of the ammunition; just like centerfire pistol/rifle rounds. In rimfire rounds the entire rim of the cartridge is essentially a percussion cap loaded with a priming compound. The wad protects the shot and ensures that there is a tight seal behind the shot to maximize the impact of the expanding gas on the shot after the trigger is pulled and the powder charge is ignited by the primer.
Shotgun Shell Gauges
The initial factor to consider with shotgun shells is their gauge. Gauge refers to the bore diameter of the shotgun. The gauge is equal to the number of lead balls of that bore diameter that add up to weigh one pound. For example, for a 12-gauge shotgun the diameter of a ball of lead weighing 1/12-pound would fill the bore so there are twelve 12-gauge balls per pound. For a 20-gauge the diameter of the lead ball weighing 1/20-pound would fill the bore. In general, smaller gauges are used for hunting birds and small animals, or for clay target shooting. Larger gauges are used for hunting larger game and personal defense. The most common gauge shotgun in the US is the 12 gauge, comprising ~ 50% of the overall shotgun market. The 20 gauge shotgun is next in popularity due to its prevalent use by upland game hunters. The next most popular sizes are 28 gauge and .410 bore (which is not a gauge at all - it’s actually a caliber). The 10 gauge and 16 gauge, while less common in the US, are still in use. The first picture below shows the relative sizes of different gauge barrels. The second picture shows the range of common shotgun shells based on gauges.
Birdshot vs. Buckshot vs. Slugs
The next factor to consider with shotgun shells is their projectiles. Although all shotgun shells have similar components, the actual projectile that shells have can vary widely. The three main types of shotgun projectiles are: (1) Birdshot, (2) Buckshot and (3) Slugs. The smallest projectiles are called Birdshot since they are most suitable for hunting birds like geese, ducks and pheasants or small game like squirrels and rabbits. Next comes Buckshot, which is good for hunting game like deer, fox and coyote up to ~60 yards. Lastly, there are slugs which are used for hunting big-game like deer and bear. Below is a photo that provides a cutaway view of birdshot, buckshot and slug shells.
Perhaps the most confusing item related to Shotgun shells is “shot size” since there are so many options.
The smallest diameter birdshot sizes (from smallest to larger) are #9, #8, #8½ and #7½. These are the sizes you’ll traditionally see on target loads for clay shooting, but they also can be used for some upland game birds such as grouse and woodcock. The medium diameter shot sizes includes #6, #5 and #4. These work very well for pheasants, ducks, rabbits and squirrels; heavy loads will work well on turkeys too. The large shot sizes that are made of steel, #3, #2, #1, B, BB, BBB, T, F and FF shot are used for long-range waterfowl hunting since these pellets will hold their velocity and retain enough energy to kill geese and ducks at a distance.
Larger sizes of shot, large enough that they must be carefully packed into the shell rather than simply dumped or poured in, are called "Buckshot" or just "buck". Buckshot is used for hunting larger game, such as deer. Buckshot runs from #4 Buck to 000 (“triple-aught”) Buck. As with birdshot sizes, the higher the number the smaller the pellet size, In addition, the more zeros in the “aught” size the larger the pellet diameter. The most commonly produced buckshot shell is a 12 gauge, 00 buck shell that holds 9 pellets. Buckshot is very effective on game like deer, fox and coyote within ~60 yards and it can make a sensible home-defense choice depending on your surroundings and situation. Below is a chart from Shotgunworld that shows the relative sizes of shotgun pellets.
To give you a better feel of the size differences between shot here is a photograph that easily allows you to see the variations.
A useful method for remembering the diameter of numbered shot in inches is to subtract the shot size from 17. The resulting answer is the diameter of the shot in hundredths of an inch. For example, #2 shot gives 17-2 = 15, meaning that the diameter of #2 shot is 15/100 or 0.15". B shot is .170 inches, and sizes go up in .01 increments for BB and BBB sizes.
In addition to shooting a group of pellets, shotguns can also fire single projectiles called “slugs.” Slug shotguns can have a traditional smoothbore like all shotguns that fire shot pellets or can have “rifled” barrels, just like a normal rifle to spin stabilize the shotgun slug to increase accuracy after it is fired. There are several different types of slugs.
The following photo shows some of the slugs for sale in today’s market.
If you look at a box of Shotgun shells the second to last number on a box normally shows the “load” – the weight of the shot inside each shell. The load can vary from ½ ounce to 2 ounces. Most 12-gauge shells contain 1 ounce, 1 1/8-ounce, or 1¼-ounce loads. A standard 20-gauge shell has 7/8 ounce of shot. Loads of 12 gauge 00 Buckshot are commonly available in 8 to 18 pellets in lengths from 2 3/4" to 3 1/2". Remember that the heavier the shot load, the greater the recoil.
Shotgun Shell Sizes
The next variable that needs to be considered when purchasing shotgun shells is the length of the shell. The second number on a box of Shotgun shells is the length of the shell after it has been fired. Most shotguns are chambered for 2¾-inch or 3-inch shells, with some guns being chambered at 3½ inches. Check your owner’s manual to verify what maximum shell length your gun will accommodate. Shells that are shorter may be safely used, but using longer shells is extremely dangerous because the crimp won’t be able to fully open when the shell is fired. This can result in an extreme pressure build-up that could damage or even explode your barrel. The following photo shows the wide range of variability between 2¾” to 3½” shells from .410 to 8 gauge.
This photo shows the wide range of shotgun shells – birdshot, buckshot, slugs of varying sizes and shell lengths.
Lead vs. Steel, Tungsten and Bismuth Shot
Lead shot is still the best ballistic performer, but environmental restrictions on the use of lead, especially with waterfowl, require steel, bismuth, or tungsten composites. Steel, being significantly less dense than lead, requires larger shot sizes, but is a good choice when lead is not legal and cost is a consideration.
Sone people argue that steel shot cannot safely be used in some older shotguns without causing damage to either the bore or to the choke due to the hardness of steel shot. However, the increased pressure in most steel cartridges is a far greater problem, causing more strain to the breech of the gun. Since tungsten is very hard, it must be used with care in older guns. Tungsten shot is often alloyed with nickel and iron to softening the shot. This alloy is approximately 1/3 denser than lead, but far more expensive. Bismuth shot falls between steel and tungsten shot in both density and cost. The rule of thumb in converting appropriate steel shot is to go up by two numbers when switching from lead. However, there are different views on dense patterns versus higher pellet energies.
Recommended Shell Sizes for Hunting
So what do you do with all this information? Well, you select what shotgun shell to use based on what you are hunting or shooting. For hunting, shot size must be chosen not only for the range, but also for the type of game. The shot must reach the target with enough energy to penetrate to a depth sufficient to kill the game.
As previously mentioned, the smallest birdshot sizes (#9, #8 and #7½) are good for clay target shooting and small game birds such as grouse and woodcock. Medium sized shot (#6, #5 and #4) work well for pheasants, ducks, rabbits and squirrels. Large steel shot sizes (#3, #2, #1, B, BB, BBB, T, F and FF) are good for long-range waterfowl hunting. Slugs are used for hunting big-game like deer and bear. Here’s a comprehensive chart showing what size shell, gauge and load to use for various game.
So Clear That You Could See for Miles
Yesterday, in between the recent rain storms, it cleared up and dried off enough for us to spend a couple of hours on a local hike. The weather was cool enough that the activity of hiking made it a perfect temperature. The sky was so clear that you could see the two tallest buildings in Boston (the John Hancock Building at 790 feet and the Prudential Tower at 750 feet) from over 20 miles away.
Here are some pictures of a few of the sights that we saw on the hike. The Hancock Building and the Prudential Tower are marked with the “red arrow” in the sixth photo.
The Beauty of the New England Woods in the Fall
Well it’s finally Fall here in New England – and the beauty of the woods is once again breathtaking; especially if you get off the beaten path and just wander through the wilds. I’m always amazed by the variety of the colors, shapes and smells amongst the trees.
Here are some pictures of what New England looked like this morning in the bright sunshine. You could literally see the leaves falling as you walked:
The Sights and Sounds of a World War II Battlefield
This weekend we went to The Collings Foundation WWII reenactment of the “Battle for the Airfield”; a live-action reenactment of a 1944 battle between the Allies and the Germans for a forward operating base airfield.
There were over 300 reenactors, representing several units of Allied and Axis military, participating in the reenactment. There was also fully restored military equipment of all kinds to include tanks, cannons, troop carriers, halftracks, aircraft and support supplies. Allied and Axis camps were set up with authentic materials and appearance and the reenactors shared their knowledge about the weapon systems and life as a WWII military person.
As you can see in the following photos, a significant number of restored WWII vehicles participated in the reenactment:
German Historic Vehicles:
Allied (American and British) Historic Vehicles:
If you would like to learn more about the Collings Foundation - here's a link to their website:
Why Not Take Your Dog with You on Your Next Trip Outdoors?
Since we know lots of people that Hike and Camp with their dogs we wanted to pass along some great information that the people at Dog Etiquette sent us since that’s their specialty. So here’s their advice:
“If you like to go camping, chances are your four-legged buddy will enjoy it, too. No need to hide them away in a kennel: let them take in the sights and scents of the outdoors. But there are a few safety things to consider. Here, we’ve compiled some health and safety tips for taking your dog along.
With just a little advance planning, you and your pooch can explore the world safely. Before long, they’ll be right along with you, hiking trails, swimming in lakes and ponds and cooking over a campfire. They’ll love curling up next to you at night at the end of a long day. Happy trails!”
Here are some other questions that DogEtiquette thinks everyone should consider before going Hiking and Camping with your dog:
Is my pet ready for an outdoor excursion?
How do I check for injuries on my dog?
How do I check for ticks on my pet?
Heatstroke in my dog: what do I need to know?
How do I find dog-friendly campsites and important regulations?
What are the potential camping-related dangers?
What are some other great outdoor adventures for me and my pup?
What packing checklist should I follow?
What should I put in my dog’s first aid kit?
Is a collar or harness best for my dog during our camping trip?
You can find more great information about where to go and what to do with your best friend at DogEtiquette. We certainly appreciate them sharing their expertise with us.
Sun’s Out – Guns Out
This weekend we attended a full-day Progressive Carbine Class taught by Scott Germain of Center Mass Weapons Training and Jon Green of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League (GOAL).
The class was a hands-on, fast paced, live fire course. Starting with the combat mindset, the training covered specialized topics such as shooting positions (prone, sitting, kneeling and standing), shooting while moving, malfunction remediation, barricade drills, strong and support side shooting, proper sling use and reloading techniques.
The instruction was great and it was a fun (albeit sandy and hot) day at the range.
Here are a few photos and a short video of what it looked like on the range.
Niagara Falls by Day and by Night
During our recent trip we spent a couple of days at Niagara Falls. Now everyone knows about Niagara Falls, and we saw people from all over the World when we were there. But in order to really appreciate it you have to see it in person.
Niagara Falls is actually made up of three waterfalls; from largest to smallest, they are the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Located on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, the falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world that has a vertical drop of more than 165 feet. Horseshoe Falls is the most powerful waterfall in North America. More than six million cubic feet of water falls over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost four million cubic feet falls per minute on average.
Here’s a short video of Niagara Falls during the day so that you can see the massive amount of water flowing over the Horseshoe Falls:
For those that don't find Niagara Falls interesting enough, at night they light both the American Falls (on the left in red) and the Horseshoe Falls (on the right in blue) and have fireworks. Here's a short video of what it looks like during the night:
You can see some photos of our travels around Niagara Falls on the Adventures/North America page.
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