Monday, February 27, 2017

Guns, Varmints, and the Farm

Almost no subject divides Americans as much as firearms. I probably use one more often than most civilians I know, mostly for shooting four-legged varmints at close range.

Yet I hesitate to write about guns here; the issue is so fraught with disagreement.

If you live on a farm, the answer to "what gun do I need?" probably does not mean "no gun." I leave that up to you. To me firearms are tools and owning them is not about defending one's property from humans; it means shooting critters. As I've written before here, my state's laws prevent me from "re-homing" varmints caught in my live traps. I do release skunks right where I find them, because shooting them is a nightmare of chemical consequences. Besides, they are cute and seem to enjoy my method of releasing them (itself worth an entire post). The same goes for the rare squirrel I catch; the hawks here make them a rarity.

Groundhogs, possums, and raccoons? Not so much. Kaboom.

In writing about shooting, I will not discuss the uses an urbanite or suburbanite might have for a firearm: deterring another human being or, failing that, killing him and not yourself or a family member. All I'll say on that count is "take some basic classes, shoot a lot at a gun range, rent various semi-automatics and revolvers, then pick a weapon with which you feel comfortable, not the coolest-looking or biggest gun. Keep it locked up and near where it can be gotten quickly by the right person." And though I have a conceal-carry license, I have yet to tote around a handgun. I might bag one to go to the range, but conceal-carry is a fine art. One needs to take holster-qualifying and defensive handgun classes. Such training is worth every cent, as your life or another's may depend upon your skills.

There are few classes in good judgement, so I leave that up to you and your inner conversation to resolve.

I also don't have enough recent experience with deer or waterfowl hunting to advise anyone there who might want to bag a buck or be wet and miserable in a duck blind. More on deer next year, as I'm going to haul my WWII era Lee-Enfield .303 up into tree stands and, if lucky, get some venison for our freezer.

For pest animals that can elude even well designed fences to murder your chickens, little ones can be live-trapped and then shot at close range with a .22 LR. I use a simple bolt-action Remington, a single-shot weapon that had been in my wife's family for many years. At 12 feet or so, it's deadly accurate though I swiftly dispatch my "visitor" with a single round to the head and a second round to make sure the creature does not suffer.  Such .22s are not expensive, and they are simple to maintain. Most such bolt-actions are.

Then there are venomous snakes. After my close calls last year, I've decided to open-carry a Taurus Model 85 .38 Special with #6 shot shells. I do not wish to get in garden-hoe range of a big Copperhead again. They can move FAST, so I'd prefer ten feet with the .38.  In the picture below, the shooter apparently had a "near disaster" at 5 feet. I'd, for one, have stood further away and not shot at anything crawling over cement.  Perhaps he posed the dead snake there, but he killed a 5' long Copperhead not unlike the one that nearly bit me.

I'll keep the gun on my hip when mowing fields and when working around brush-piles. The weapon holds 5 shots. One could, with practice, carry a specialized snake-killer of the sort shown here. If you want to save money, however, go for a used .38 revolver. What is called "Gun Culture 2.0" with its love of tactical rifles and high-capacity polymer guns has pushed these older and dead reliable (pardon the pun) steel guns to the side. One only needs a few shots for a snake encounter.

Such a simple weapon can still be upgraded; I'm in the process of zeroing in laser sights integral to the revolver's grips. Such sights are not cheap, and if the batteries die, you had best have trained with the "iron sights" native to your gun. Moreover, do not be a skinflint on a holster. I've no recommendations there, though I like what I read about the traditional leather belt-holsters from Wright Leather works.  There's also a local company right across the river from me, Master's, that makes some nice products. I'll let readers now how they work out.

The only "cool" gun I'll note is the Taurus Judge and Smith and Wesson Governor. These large revolvers shoot .410 shotgun shells or .45 Long Colt rounds. I give a slight edge to the Governor because it also shoots .45 ACP, my favorite handgun caliber for human varmints. You would need a BIG snake for either the Judge or Governor; I'll pass but I'd love to shoot one.

Like these large revolvers, larger critters are beyond my scope(s) but for smaller ones I spot and can safely shoot at a distance, I have used an old Marlin .22 Magnum rifle with a telescopic sight. That round is longer than a .22 LR and packs a bigger punch, especially in a hollowpoint. Just because one chooses to shoot an animal does not mean one should be cruel. Practice until you can be sure of a killing shot, or don't take the shot at all.

Once I saw a rabid raccoon stumbling around in broad daylight. I hit it twice with the .22 Magnum and, in a Zombie-Movie moment, the animal flinched, then turned to stare at me as my wife said "get a bigger gun." My shotgun was far away at the time. Thankfully, the raccoon staggered off to die. I'd not recommend an AR-15 for such work but if you prefer a rifle, some new bolt-actions chamber the AR's .223 high-velocity round. Whatever the weapon, you'll need to zero in your scope well, and nothing I've found works better than a laser bore-sight. It goes in the barrel of an (unloaded!) rifle. The shooter need only adjust windage and elevation of the scope until it lines up with the laser's dot.

I've not spent much time writing about shotguns, though I own a very old Mossberg New Haven 12 gauge pump shotgun that I used for sporting clays as well as goose, deer, and duck hunting thirty years ago. It's reliable and simple, though there's little I need it for these days as I rarely need to shoot anything at range. My chickens and garden would be downrange now when critters appear, which is why I adopted a "trap and shoot" policy. My mantra for shotguns has always been "the simpler the better," and like the Remington .22,  one cannot find a much simpler weapon.  I admit a fondness for double-barrel shotguns. Nothing could be simpler, except throwing a rock.

So how much for a simple Tractorpunk arsenal? For used guns checked out by a competent gunsmith, less than a thousand bucks will buy a long arm, revolver, cleaning supplies, and ammo to equip the rural landowner, not including training and a gun safe.

Then, mindfully, let the lead fly if and when you must.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Before the Heat: Late Winter Chores

Seventy degrees outside. Yep. Today. Convertible top down on my car, I ride into town when I should be skipping school to do some farm work.

In our part of the country, especially as the climate continues to change for the warmer, Spring comes earlier. That means what follows--the hellish heat and humidity of the Mid-Atlantic states--hits sometimes in early June and does not let up until September. People who do not work outside praise the warmth. I dread what it means.

That means I have a LOT to do in February and March. I find myself trimming trees, cutting back vines, cutting down trees, chopping wood for the next winter.  On warmer days I paint things, as long as rain is not about to fall.

Soon the weeds will sprout and last year they choked out some of our kitchen garden, even imperiled our cash crop of Thai Dragon Peppers.  This year I'm going to ready our raised beds early; some are already done. I surface-tilled, weeded, and amended the soil in December, covered it with the thickest weed-block fabric that A.M. Leonard sells, then topped that with a bit of straw for both aesthetics and UV protection. We built new arches for our eagle netting, and the chickens' run has one new gate and another on the way.

Imagine doing all that in July!  My next gig will be to disassemble and repaint our 1952 Ford 8N tractor, a stalwart from our land in Buckingham County that is going into semi-retirement with us, coming out every few weeks to run a bush-hog. Our big Allis Chalmers will take its place on the remote property.

Summer is great in the early morning, dew and all. After 10am, however, I'm done until dusk most days, though when the sun hits the treeline I often get on the tractor to mow for an hour or so. At this time of year, as little as I like the freakishly warm water and what it portends for the next generations, I get out there and work all day long.

Good luck planting and growing this season. It's been a bitter fall for our nation, but there will be change and progress, whatever setbacks we encounter on the way.