Monday, October 20, 2014

CZ Upland Ultralight Shotgun Review

One’s choice of shotgun is a very personal decision. I find that the fit and feel of a shotgun matters much more to one’s marksmanship than it does when it comes to rifles. The reason is that during most applications, shotguns are pointed, not aimed. Shots are ordinarily taken with both eyes open, relying on proper alignment of the shotgun rather than aiming to get the shot on target. How a shotgun fits with your body and shooting style can make all the difference.

As a result, recommending a shotgun is a difficult task. There are certain criteria which can be measured and objectively judged, but the way a shotgun fits a shooter and swings in their hands is a very personal thing that does not necessarily cross well from shooter to shooter.

For the past year I have been shooting the CZ Upland Ultralight over/under shotgun. I selected it as my shotgun due to a combination of tangible and measurable characteristics, as well as the more intangible ones. In short, it did what I needed it to do and it felt right in my hands. I find that I am very particular about the feel of a shotgun, and this was on a very short list for me.

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The CZ Upland Ultralight is manufactured by CZ USA, a subsidiary of the Czech firearms manufacturer Česká Zbrojovka Uherský Brod, so… let’s stick with CZ. While CZ is well known for their rifles and handguns, few people associate the company with shotguns. The reality is that CZ actually outsources their shotgun manufacture to a Turkish company called Huglu Hunting Firearms Cooperative, or Huglu for short. While Turkish shotguns are not prominently featured on the US market, they do have a good reputation, and that is reflected in the surprising quality of the shotguns produced for CZ.

The shotgun comes only in 12 gauge, but does offer a choice of 26 or 28 inch barrels. The one I have is the 28 inch barrel version. I have found the extra length to not be an issue at all. In fact, the shotgun feels short when compared to pump and semi-auto shotguns with similar barrel lengths. The reason is that with a break-open action you do not have the bolt mechanism which adds several inches onto a pump or semi-auto shotgun. As with other break-open shotguns, the result is a shortened overall length while keeping barrel length the same.

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The CZ Upland Ultralight is capable of chambering 2 3/4 and 3 inch shells. It comes standard with five interchangeable choke tubes (F,IM,M,IC,C). I have purchased a second set so that I can shoot the same choke in each barrel if I want. I also have a turkey choke (0.065) for the gun. While most stores will not stock chokes for CZ shotguns, they can be easily found online by searching for Huglu choke tubes. You will find full selections from manufacturers like Trulock and Briley. From my own tests, for what it’s worth, the thread pattern for the chokes is the same as for Baretta/Benelli chokes.

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As the name indicates, the CZ Upland Ultralight is a lightweight shotgun. In fact, at 6 lb the CZ Upland Ultralight is one of the lightest 12 gauge shotguns currently on the market. For me that was a big selling point. When I hunt I carry my guns over considerable distances. Weight matters. Shaving off several pounds from the gun has significant value to me. The weight reduction comes from an aluminum frame, lack of a mid-rib between the barrels, and a hollowed out stock. While the aluminum stock may initially be a concern when compared to a stainless steel one, after thousands of rounds, not only is there no damage or wear, but not even the protective anodized coating has suffered any noticeable wear. I have been completely sold on the change. The removal of the mid-rib, while intended simply to remove weight, has had the added benefit for me of improving my sight picture by removing the obtrusion between the barrels. I find that it makes a difference on fast moving targets.

The weight savings of course come with a penalty. For one, a light, fast swinging shotgun is not always the ideal choice. While such characteristics may be beneficial to the hunter, on a trap or skeet field, a slower swinging shotgun may be a better choice. And of course, we can not forget the recoil. There is no avoiding it, this shotgun kicks. Shooting 3 inch 2 ounce shells requires some determination. Three rounds of trap (75 shots) with this shotgun is the most I can handle without serious bruising.

I say the above, being someone who uses this shotgun for everything. This is my trap and skeet gun, it is my turkey hunting gun, it is my upland game gun, and I have turned quite a few heads shooting slugs with it at the range. Other than the recoil, the shotgun has performed admirable in all of those roles.

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The CZ Upland Ultralight uses extractors rather than ejectors for the shells. I’m sure that also results in some weight savings. I personally prefer the extractors because it makes the shotgun smoother to open and let’s me keep better track of my spent shells.

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The shotgun uses a manual tang safety with integrated selector switch. As with most other over/under shotguns, this allows you to select which barrel will be fired first. It is a useful feature, allowing you to load different shells in each barrel, or utilize different chokes in each barrel, and then fire the one best suited for the target. The selector can only be operated when the safety is on. I find that slightly annoying, although I’m sure it’s a safety feature.

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Disassembly is very easy, and can be done without the use of any tools. A lift of a single latch on the bottom of the forearm grip allows for its removal and the extraction of the barrels.

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I have made two modifications to the shotgun so far. The first has been to add a screw-in sling attachment to the stock, and with the help of a rope loop between the barrels, I can attach a sling for when I need it.

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The second modification has been to lengthen the stock and add recoil reduction accessories. The project originally started with me just buying a LimbSaver recoil pad to see if it would soften the recoil. It was one of the slip on pads, size medium. It fit perfectly over the stock. Aside from the recoil reduction, I definitely liked the extra length the pad added to the stock. The pads are about one inch thick, and when put over the factory recoil pad, it made the stock an inch longer. This immediately improved the alignment of the shotgun when mounted. It seems that for me, the factory stock was a bit short. The problem was that with the factory rounded recoil pad still in place, the LimbSaver pad would slide around. The recommended solution is to remove the factory pad, but that would reduce the length again. My solution was to cut out several layers of sheath-making leather into the shape of the factory pad, and glue them together until they became the thickness of the factory pad. I then epoxied them to the inside of the LimbSaver pad, and screwed the whole thing back onto the stock using the original screw holes. I have been very happy with the result. After several hundred rounds the recoil pad is staying firmly in place.

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While the LimbSaver recoil pad protects the shoulder well, there was still excessive recoil felt on the area of the stock contacting the cheek. In an effort to soften that impact, I added a 1/16” Cheek-Eez recoil pad. The pad consists of a stick on urethane sheath that you place on the side and top of the stock. It comes in different thicknesses. I opted for the 1/16 inch because I didn’t want my alignment to be thrown off too much. I think the 1/8 inch pad would have been fine too.

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I know that for many making such alterations to an over/under shotgun is a cause for anxiety. I would feel the same way if we were talking about a $6000 engraved work of art shotgun. The CZ Upland Ultralight however is a purely utilitarian design. Nothing on the gun has been placed there to make it look better or to make it more exclusive. Every part is there to perform a function. This utilitarian approach allows the shotgun to retail for $762.00. If you are not exposed to a lot of O/U shotguns, this probably still seems absurdly expensive, but it’s an entry level price into the market.

The above wraps up the tangible description of the gun. These factors are important, but for me at least, are not the only factors for selecting a shotgun. I shoot the CZ Upland Ultralight because it fits me and the way I use shotguns.

When it comes to fit, a shotgun is very much like a pair of boots. Sure, you can wear different designs, but when one fits right, you know it. Being able to mount the shotgun and make it fit smoothly into your shooting stance is very important. I’ve tried out and shot many different designs, a lot of them much more expensive than the CZ Upland Ultralight, but they just didn’t feel right in my hands. This shotgun did. I wasn’t specifically looking for an over/under shotgun, nor a shotgun from any specific maker, or in any specific price range. The CZ Upland Ultralight just worked for me, so I started shooting it. That of course is an intangible, personal factor. It will be different for each person.

The CZ Upland Ultralight also fit my style of shotgun use. My primary interest in guns is for hunting use. I do shoot a fair amount of trap, but that is only so that I can become a better hunter. As such, I use the same shotgun for shooting trap or skeet as I use for hunting. My hunts usually involve traveling over extended distances and can last for days while I live out of my backpack. The result is that I need a light gun. I also need the shotgun to have the capability of using ammunition designed for anything from squirrel, to turkey and duck, to large game. As such, I needed a gun that can chamber at least up to 3 inch shells, of course with interchangeable chokes. In theory, a gun that can chamber up to 3 1/2 inch shells would be preferable, but with a light gun I am not capable of handling the recoil. Lastly, I need a gun that is easy to maintain in the woods.

The CZ Upland Ultralight U/O shotgun met all of those requirement for me. It is light, it can chamber 2 3/4 and 3 inch shells, comes with a decent selection of choke tubes, and is easy to maintain. Lastly, it feels right in my hands. There are other shotguns that will do the same job admirably, but this one felt right to me. Will it be right for you? I have no idea. It is designed to fit a specific function. If that is what you seek to do, it may be the right fit. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Portable Trapping Kit – Gear and Modifications

As I’ve been saying all along in my posts on trapping, this year, and hopefully going forward, I’ll try to play around with the idea of creating a trapping set up that is backpack portable. By that I mean, a set up with which a person can travel over long distances in the wilderness while trapping and possibly hunting and fishing as well. What I need to achieve is a lightweight trapping kit. 

Naturally, trapping does not lend itself well to this idea. Trapping requires a lot of heavy equipment, and as a result it is often done from a more established base of operations where gear can be transported by means other than human power, or near populated areas where access by car is easy. Having a trapping kit that can be carried along with all of your other overnight gear is a great challenge. And let me be clear, here I am not talking about bringing some wire as an emergency trapping kit. I am talking about a kit with which you can legally trap long term. I’m still not sure it can be done, or how successful the result will be, but here is my attempt:

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Before I get into the details of the gear you see in the picture above, let me say a bit about the theory here.

First, why foothold traps? Well, other than the fact that I like them, I think they are the most effective trap for the weight that I am allowed to use in my area. Technically, snares are a lighter and a very productive option, but they are illegal in my state, and they do get damaged quite often when they catch an animal, making them hard to maintain over longer periods. The other main option, body grip traps (Conibears) are actually much heavier considering what they can actually trap. As an example, let’s say that a #1 foothold trap and a 110 body grip trap weigh about the same (unmodified), about 15 oz each. So far they are the same. However, the #1 foothold trap is rated to take muskrat, mink, opossum, and raccoon; the 110 body grip trap is rated to take only muskrat and mink. For opossum and raccoon, you have to move up to 160 or 220, which is heavier. Sure, each type of trap can occasionally catch a larger animal, but they are not rated for it. So, for the same weight a foothold trap will give me a much larger range of animals I can trap. It’s not always easier to use, but it’s more productive for the weight.

Second, since I am using foothold traps, I have four different target groups of animals, for which I would use different set ups:

  • Squirrel
  • Mink, muskrat, opossum, and raccoon
  • Fox, coyote, and fisher
  • Beaver and otter 

For each category I use a different size trap. So, when deciding on a portable trapping kit, I had to prioritize which animals to target. Which type of trap would give me the biggest bang for the buck. I decided that my best chance for productive trapping was to go after the second category, i.e. mink, muskrat, opossum, and raccoon. For all four species I use a #1 foothold trap. Not only are the animals easier to trap, but the traps themselves are relatively small and light. Squirrel is relatively abundant, and I do have a lightweight way of trapping them, although there aren’t always regulations that allow for squirrel trapping. As such, I will leave it for another post. Those traps can easily be added to this kit to supplement it. Fox and coyote are very hard to trap, especially when you have limited time. Most coyote trappers I know have to leave the traps set for at least a few days before they have a chance to trap one. As far as beaver, while it is a big return on investment, the traps are just too heavy. Bringing several 330s or #4 foot holds would just be prohibitively heavy. So, for this kit I focused on using #1 foothold traps in order to target mink, muskrat, opossum, and raccoon.

Leaving the theory aside, let me give you the run down on the gear in the above picture and the corresponding weights:

Item

Model

Weight

Trap (x5) Oneida Victor #1 (modified) 10.8 oz (54.0 oz for 5 traps)
Lure (full) Hawbaker’s Big 3 1.0 oz
Bait Canister Plastic screw top jar 0.8 oz
Fish Oil (full) Commercial fish oil 2.4 oz
Trap Covers (x5) Fiberglass pan covers 0.1 oz for 5
Drown line (x5) 10’ 3/32” drown lines 3.4 oz (17 oz for 5)

The total weight for the kit, including the drown lines is 4lb 11.3oz. If you do not need the drown lines, then the weight drops down to 3lb 10.3oz. In some instances the drown lines will be worth the extra weight, in other instances they will not. I’ve included them here because I think they are a good idea. If you are trapping away from water, then you would not need them.

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The lure I use (or at least will stick to this year) is Hawbaker’s Big 3 Lure. To me it seems heavy on muskrat musk, which if fine by me. I keep it in a canister designed for deer lure. They sell them empty in packs of three at most hunting supply stores. It is a lighter and more durable option that the glass bottle the lure originally comes in. I also like Blackie's Blend Moneymaker Lure, but it’s more liquid than Hawbaker’s so I find it harder to apply. Both lures are designed to work on mink, muskrat, and raccoon, and everything works on opossum. I also carry a nasal spray bottle filled with fish oil. I use it as a trailing lure. Ideally I would want more of it, but weight reduction was the name of the game. I usually carry several baits, but this year I will stick with raw chicken or other meat just to simplify things. I’ll see if it works. 

The only other item I may consider carrying is a jar of antifreeze. I’ll see if I can get away without it. I plan on using the same type jar as the bait jar. Filled with antifreeze it weighs 4.0 oz.

The traps themselves are a modified version of the same model Oneida Victor #1 foothold traps you’ve seen in previous posts. I’ve put a night latch trigger on all of them, and they have been dipped, much like on all my other traps. The main difference is the chain. In fact, there is no chain at all. It has been replaced by cable. The cable I chose is 3/32” aircraft aluminum cable. It has a breaking strength of 920lb, which is higher than most chains, so I hope it works out okay. I imagine I would have to change out the cable from time to time, but I think it’s worth it.

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Step one is to remove the chain as with a normal modification, and relocate the J-hook to the center of the trap. Then, align all the parts:

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The components I used to put the trap together are:

As with my previous posts related to trapping gear, I’ve provided links to the items from Fur Harvester’s Trading Post, so it’s easier to get everything together, and because I like the place.

Then, just put everything together. Place the J-hook on the trap and close it; Thread the cable through the J-hook and close the loop using the double ferrule. I just pounded it with a hammer until it was secure. Then thread the other end of the cable into the opening of the swivel, and secure it with the single ferule, which will act as a stop. Finally, close the swivel J-hook around the quick link attachment.

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All that’s left to do it add your tags if required by your state. The modification is pretty easy to do, and drops the weight of each trap to 10.8 oz.

Obviously this is a very basic kit. It is missing many things, in particular tools. As you can see, there are no stakes. In the top picture you see large metal rings attached to the quick links. They are there to be used with wooden stakes when drown lines are not a good option. Of course that means I have to make my stakes on the spot. It’s not too difficult with only five traps, but it’s not the norm. I also don’t have any digging tool or hammer. That is also a sacrifice made in the interest of reducing weight. A typical trapper’s tool will weight nearly 5lb, which is prohibitive. Considering all of that, a hatchet might be a good idea to carry when trapping with this set up, although you can certainly do without it.

So, five modified traps (#1 Oneida Victor), five drown lines (10’ 3/32” cable with locks), five trap covers (fiberglass), a bottle of lure (Hawbaker’s Big 3), a bottle of trailing lure (fish oil), and a bait jar. Less than five pounds of gear that can be carried in a pack with the rest of your kit. Will it work? I don’t know. The challenge here is not only the reduced gear, but also the manner in which the trapping is to be done. This assumes a scenario where you would backpack over certain distance to a location, set up traps, leave them overnight or possible for two or three days while you camp in the area, and then pack up everything again and get going. This truncated time table is not a trapper’s friend. It is best to leave the traps out for longer periods, but this method will not allow for it. For me it’s an experiment to see what’s possible.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Bushcraft, Woodsmanship, and Stupid Number Rules

Have you guys noticed how bushcraft, woodsmanship, wilderness self reliance, etc are filled with random number rules? Rules of three, five items you must have, ten essentials you must carry, etc. Am I the only one who finds these number guides to be ridiculous? Not only do I find these numbers to be arbitrary, but they carry absolutely no meaning.

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Take for example The Ten Essentials. That concept has been around for a long time. It sounds very important: the ten things you should always have with you when in the woods! Fine, except that have you ever actually looked at the recommended lists? No two are the same. On half of the lists part of the items seem to be nothing more than filler designed just to get the number up to ten, while on the other half of the lists, important items are missing. So why ten items? Why not eight or thirteen? Are we such children that everything we carry has to be in threes, fives, and tens so that we don’t get confused?

Or how about the tool trio combinations, or concepts like the 5Cs or any other variant of the same thing? Why are we so drawn to such uselessly vague concepts? Why do we insist on putting silly restrictions on ourselves? Then we sit and perform mental gymnastics to fit all the tools we actually need into these arbitrary numbers, more often than not adding tools we don’t need or leaving out tools we do need just so we can get to this magical number.

Oh no, you carry four tools with you?!?! But that neither fits in the Nessmuk Trio, nor in Dave Canterbury’s Five Tool Rule. Clearly you have done something wrong! Clearly you must be an inexperienced n00b, who has no place in the woods. Unless… you carry four tools because you need four tools, and know enough about what you are doing not to leave one of them behind so you can fit into a random trio, or add an item you don’t need to match somebody’s random tool number requirement. How mind blowing would it be if we were guided in what gear we carry not by random numbers picked by some person out of a hat (I’m sorry, from their many years of wilderness experience), and instead were guided by what gear we actually need? 

I know, I know, but new people need everything to be in basic numbers so that they don’t forget. Really? Do we think that little of people? They can remember ten items, but eleven?!? No way!

I like to put forward the theory that these number rules carry no practical significance or use, but rather function just as means of attracting readership or viewers. For some reason people are drawn to titles with nice round numbers: The Three X, The Best 5 Ys, The 10 Zs of Woodsmanship, etc. Such posts and videos attract more readers and viewers. However, they serve no practical purpose, and just cause people to waste their time trying to fit the tools and gear they actually need into arbitrary number categories.

I’ll go even further and say that numbers are not a valid criteria for selecting your gear list. I say that because the number count of the number of items you have on your back when you are in the woods has zero bearing on what you are doing in the woods or how successful you will be. The actual practical considerations are weight, volume of gear, and whether you have the tools you need for the task. Whether you have three, five, seven, ten, eleven, twenty, or a hundred items makes no difference. The considerations that actually matter are whether you have the tools you need for the trip you have undertaken, and whether you are capable of carrying those tools.

There is no such thing as “the best number of tools to carry”, or “the numbers of tools you really need”. Such rules are the domain of armchair woodsmen. Sure, as a theoretical exercise, it is fun to play games like “Which three; which five; which ten items would you take if you were going to…” As a practical guide to what you should bring with you into the woods however, I find them to be of no value.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Back to Back Episode 2: The Cost of Backpacking Gear

For those who didn’t see the first post, I’m doing a series of video conversations with Cesar from Cesar and The Woods regarding backpacking and woodsmanship. For the second set of videos, we decided to ramble a bit about the cost of backpacking gear. There is a perception that backpacking is an expensive activity, and especially if you want to reduce the weight of your gear.

I am under the belief that good backpacking gear doesn’t have to be expensive. I believe that you can have an ultralight or nearly ultralight complete gear list for around $500 for three season backpacking. By reducing the number of items you carry, and making careful choices about your gear, you can reduce both the weight and the price. $500 is not cheap either, but Cesar makes a good point that we spend that much on a new smart phone each year and don’t think twice about it. Here are the videos:

Part 1:

Part 2:

 

So, I finished watching the videos, and quickly realized that we managed to talk for a combined time of half an hour and tell you absolutely nothing about how to actually get a low cost lightweight kit together. It appears that Cesar reached the same conclusion independently as he posted a gear list on his blog designed to address that lack of information. In all honesty, it is just very difficult to get into specifics in a video. It is much easier to put it in writing, and it should be easier to reference as well.

I previously did two posts on low cost light weight gear. One was for three season backpacking and the other for winter backpacking. I recently updated the three season list with some available options. Follow the links below to the two posts:

Beginners Guide to Affordable Bushcraft and Backpacking Gear

Low Cost Ultralight Winter Backpacking Gear List

The first link provides a three season list, and goes into some of the details that will get you started as a backpacker or woodsman. With the selections I made from the list, I was able to put together a complete kit that weighs 12lb 7.2oz and costs $531. If you do not use the hatchet, you get a sub 10lb ultralight gear list for under $500.

The second link shows my attempt at a low cost, low weight winter gear list, and assuming no axe being carried, I was able to put together a 10lb 11.2oz gear list for $741. With the additional of some small items you see in the three season gear list such as a repair kit, the weight will get bumped up a bit.

Same is true for both gear lists. You will inevitably add some more items that you feel are important. With all of that however, you should be able to end up with a sub 15lb gear lists for both three season and winter use, and you should be able to keep the cost very reasonable.

More importantly, you can do this with commercially available gear that you can pick up at any outdoor store. No, it is not top of the line gear for each and every piece, but using similar gear lists people have done a lot more than most of us will ever do. This is gear that you will regularly see being used on the trail, and can utilize with confidence.