Wednesday, September 2, 2015

President Barack Obama To Appear On “Running Wild with Bear Grylls”

You read that correctly folks. The President of the United States of America, Barack Obama is in the process of filming an episode with Bear Grylls for his show Running Wild with Bear Grylls.


For those not familiar with the show, outdoor reality show host Bear Grylls takes a celebrity into the wilderness for a survival challenge. Typically a new celebrity appears on each episode. The show is filled with the usual over the top antics and reckless disregard for safety or proper survival tactics for which Bear Grylls has become famous. Well, in the next few days Barack Obama will be filming one such episode, which is to air later in the year.

The stated reason for the president doing the show is to raise awareness of global warming. I expect it to be heavy on political rhetoric.

As distasteful as I find it to have a US President appear on a pseudo survival show, I find it even more distasteful that he would be appearing on a show hosted by Bear Grylls. Seems like there were much better choices than the guy who drinks urine on TV for shock value.

While most survival gurus seem to be surrounded by controversy, the controversy around Bear Grylls ended a long time ago, and these days we are pretty much all on the same page in that his “survival” shows are nothing more than a series of fake, ill-advised stunts, that have no place in a survival situation. And let’s not forget the fact that his shows have been shown to be fake and staged numerous times, from spending nights in a hotel while pretending to be in the woods, to eating lunch with the crew while pretending not to have food and being “forced” to eat every disgusting thing he can find in the most vivid way possible, to crossing “dangerous” terrain which then turns out to be a ditch on the side of the road.

Sadly, this is the type of show that President Barack Obama has chosen to appear on. I imagine the fake nature of the show is a big part of the reason why it lends itself so well to having the president appear on it. The two of them can pretend to be “surviving in the wilderness”, while at the same time filming the show in the hotel’s garden while hundred secret service agents stand just off camera.

The worst part of this, aside from the demeaning nature of the act, is that while Barack Obama will be pushing a message about global warming, he will unintentionally also be pushing a message of unsafe and dangerous wilderness survival practices. Giving credibility to someone like Bear Grylls by appearing on his “survival” show promotes practices and approaches to survival which are demonstrably and unquestionably dangerous and ill-advised.

Certainly there are better ways for the President of the United States of America to spend his time. But even if he insists on doing this, one can hardly imagine a worst choice of a show than Running Wild with Bear Grylls. Certainly a more respectable “survival expert” could have been found, who can actually bring some valuable knowledge to the people watching the program, and promote the outdoors and outdoor recreation in a responsible way.   

Update (9/2/15):

It appears that Cody Lundin, survival instructor at Aboriginal Living Skills School, LLC and former host of Dual Survival, has just released an open letter to President Obama, expressing his disappointment with his decision to appear on Running Wild with Bear Grylls. You can see the post here. I have also transcribed it below.

Dear President Obama,

My heart sank when I learned that you will appear with Bear Grylls on a hyper-scripted television show. Your decision to “learn” survival skills from an actor who plays a survival instructor on TV has further muddied the water for people wanting to learn factual skills to keep themselves and loved ones alive during emergencies. Outdoor survival instruction is a real profession, a profession in which people’s lives depend upon the training given. It is not a joke or a cheap PR stunt.

You have worldwide influence. An opportunity was wasted to educate millions of people to be safer and more prepared in the back country. This same self-reliant mindset and preparedness learned in the outdoors translates directly into our towns and cities. A better prepared, more resilient and stronger citizen is an advantage to us all. This is the intention of authentic survival training.

You had an opportunity to train with a genuine outdoor survival instructor in Alaska; there are several of us nationwide. You chose instead to further perpetuate the dangerous misinformation that networks continue to spew out regarding the outdoor survival skills profession. This misinformation can and has killed people. Your appearance on this show further justifies this misinformation, and makes it that much more difficult for professional survival instructors to do their job and save lives. Tragic and unnecessary.

In closing, when Edward tries to convince you to drink your own piss, instead of the sparkling bottled water in the production cooler off-set… don’t.


Doesn’t the President have advisors who can look into these things? How does he end up on a show hosted by one of the least respected people in the industry?

Monday, August 31, 2015

History Channel’s ALONE, The Most Realistic Survival Show… Or Is It?

You guys have probably noticed that I have said very little about the popular History Channel show Alone. For those of you not familiar at all, the premise of the show is that several people are dropped off in the “wilderness” with a limited amount of gear and are left to survive there for up to a year. The one who lasts out the longest wins $500,000.


There are two reasons why I haven’t posted much about the show. The first is that I think all of the contestants deserve some degree of respect. Granted, some were not able to last even a handful of days, but just being willing to put your life on hold for an extended period of time just so you can test yourself is quite something. These guys are amateurs, and as such have made a sacrifice to be on the show. Now, it seems a few of them are now trying to push their own survival/bushcradft schools, which will of course bring a higher level of scrutiny and expectations; but that’s for another post. The second reasons is that I am not a fan of Monday morning quarterbacking. Things are just different on the ground. Many things look like a good idea when you are in the woods, that seem silly when watching it at home, and the other way around. On top of that, all this footage is heavily edited, making it hard to know exactly what happened. So, in this post, I will try to keep such comments to a minimum.

The reason I decided to write this post is because of the huge number of emails I have received asking me to comment on the show. In particular I have received a number telling me how the show represents true bushcraft, or real survival, etc. Many people I have spoken to have what I believe to be very misguided ideas about what the show actually is or what happened during its course. In some respects Alone is a very “real” show, in others it’s nothing of the sort. If you haven’t been dealing with production companies for some time, it may be hard to tell which is which. So, here is my attempt to draw some distinctions:

What Was Not So Real:

Stranded in the wilderness: location, location, location

The first thing that caught my attention a while back was the location of the show. We all know it’s Vancouver Island, and most people assume that the contestants were dropped off in some sort of untouched wilderness. Well, based on an early map shown by the History Channel, and based on the research of a few guys, it appears the exact location is near Winter Harbor on Vancouver Island, approximate GPS coordinates of 50.5057662,-127.9784363. Now, here is what that gives us when plotted on top of the satellite view of the area:

Alone Map General  

The above map is small, but even from that picture your eye is probably detecting large clearings and roads right next to the contestants. Here is a closer view of Mitch’s location:

Alone Map-Mitch

Here is a closer view of Joe’s location:

Alone Map-Joe

Here is a street view of Sam’s location:

Alone Map-Sam

These locations are approximate, but based on the map from the History Channel, they should be fairly accurate. You can do your own search on Google Maps Satellite View or Google Earth using the above coordinates.

Is that what you had in mind when you were watching the show? Did you know that every one of the contestants was less than an hour’s walk from a road, town, or clearing? Did you know that some of them were in actual campsites?

Now, to be fair, these are logging areas and logging roads. They don’t exactly see a lot of traffic and were probably not in use at the time of filming. Even so though, did you see any of that on the show? Did any of the contestant hunt the edges of the clearings or roads? Did any of them go into town for a beer? 

When I first discovered this, I figured that is the reason why none of them moved about much. Walking in any direction for about an hour would have taken them into a clearing or a road. I though that, until I saw their gear lists. Then I decided that the reason they couldn’t move about was because they couldn’t move the huge amount of gear they had.

Gear, gear everywhere

So, the premise of the show was that these guys could only bring ten items with which to survive. They could chose these ten items from a list of 40 items that was provided to them. On its face it may seem like a challenging task. Well, the History Channel released the gear lists. You can look for yourself here. Here is a brief summary:

Items that were carried that did NOT count in the ten items (I have removed the filming items from the lists, i.e. cameras, etc):

  • 1 canister wild animal repellant
    1 air horn
    1 backpack
    1 emergency flare
    1 satellite phone
    1 emergency personal flotation device
    1 first aid kit (military type – tourniquet, wadding, ace bandage, alcohol, plastic bag, etc)
    1 small mirror
    1 20×20 canvas tarp
    1 10×10 canvas tarp for camera gear
    1 head lamp
    1 gps tracking device
    1 emergency rations pack to include water and food
  • 1 woolen sweater
    1 pair of gloves
    1 trapper’s hat with ear protection or toboggan
  • 1 pair high leg Hunting boots
    2 pairs of Outdoor Pants (can unzip into shorts)
    1 t-shirt
    2 fleece or wool shirts (a hooded fleece is approved)
    3 pairs wool socks
    1 hat (brimmed, wool or baseball)
    1 bandana or shemagh
    1 pair gloves
    1 light outdoor jacket
    2 pairs underwear
    1 rain jacket and rain trousers
    1 thermal underwear (long)
    1 pair of gaiters
    1 pair of Crocs, Teva sandals or Keen sandals
    1 toothbrush
    1 pair of prescription eye glasses
    1 personal photograph

And, we still haven’t gotten to the ten (10) items. None of the above gear counts towards the ten items. Now, here is the gear list from which the contestants could pick their ten (10) items:

  • 12×12 ground cloth/tarp (grommets approved)
    8 mm climbing rope
    550 parachord – 20m
    1 hatchet
    1 saw
    1 axe
  • 1 multi-seasonal sleeping bag that fits within provided back-pack
    1 bivi bag (gortex sleeping bag cover)
    1 sleeping Pad
    1 hammock
  • 1 large (no more than 2 quart) Pot, includes lid
    1 steel frying pan
    1 flint or ferro rod set
    1 enamel bowl for eating from
    1 spoon
    1 disposable lighter
    1 canteen or water bottle
    1 bear canister
  • 1 bar soap
    1 8 oz tube of toothpaste
    1 face flannel
    1 40 m. roll dental floss
    1 small bottle bio shower soap
    1 shaving razor (and 1 blade)
    1 towel (30” x 60”)
    1 comb
  • 1 300 yard roll of nylon single filament fishing line and 25 assorted hooks (No lures)
    1 primitive bow with 6 Arrows (must be predominately made of wood)
    1 small gauge gill net (1.5 m deep x 6 m long and 2 inch [50 mm] mesh)
    1 slingshot/Catapult
    1 net foraging bag
    3.5 lb roll of trapping wire
  • 5 lbs of beef jerky (protein)
    5 lbs of dried pulses/legumes/lentils mix (starch and carbs)
    5 lbs of biltong (protein)
    5 lbs of hard tack military biscuits (carbs/sugars)
    5 lbs of chocolate (Simple/complex sugars)
    5 lbs of pemmican (traditional trail food made from fat and proteins)
    5 lbs of gorp (raisins, m&m’s and peanuts)
    5 lbs of flour. (starch/carbs)
    2 lbs of rice or sugar and 1 lb of salt
  • 1 pocket knife
    1 hunting knife
    1 leatherman multi-tool
    1 sharpening stone
    1 roll of duct tape or 1 roll of electrical tape
    1 small shovel
    1 small sewing kit
    1 carabineer
    1 LED flashlight
    1 pair of ice spikes

Now, for someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in the woods, the above list may not seem like anything special. For those however, who do backpack, camp, hunt, or otherwise spend time in the woods, it is clear that the contestants had a huge amount of very useful gear. In fact, what was depicted as a survival challenge on TV, was a well equipped camping trip. The only true survival element of the show, the lack of food, seems to have been completely self inflicted by overconfident contestants. Let’s dive into it a bit deeper.

Let’s look at a standard camping set up that can be put together from the above list:

  • 20x20 tarp (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items). It should be noted that 20x20 is a huge tarp. For most campers and backpackers a 10x10 tarp is considered large.
  • A four season sleeping bag
  • A sleeping pad
  • A backpack (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • A 2qt pot
  • A lighter/ferro rod. Considering the trouble all of the contestants had starting a fire with their ferro rods, a lighter might have been a good choice.  
  • A head lamp (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • An axe
  • All the clothing you could ever want (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • A bag of food (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • A mirror (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • A first aid kit (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • A toothbrush (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)
  • A bandana (didn’t count towards the ten (10) items)

So, the above list is pretty much a complete backpacking/camping set up. It’s approximately the amount of gear I carry when I go on any trip into the woods, and provides for a comfortable and pretty ordinary camp.

I have managed to put together the above list and have only used five (5) items from the forty (40) items list. Realistically, since you have an axe, and don’t plan on traveling, the sleeping pad is not needed, which will bring you down to four (4) items from the list. So, that will leave us with six (6) more items to chose for our ten (10) items list.

Considering that the winning contestant won by lasting just under two months, a smart choice might have been to bring extra food. The provisions list had some excellent choices. Here is what I would have picked:

  • 5 lbs of biltong (protein)
  • 5 lbs of hard tack military biscuits (carbs/sugars)
  • 5 lbs of chocolate (Simple/complex sugars)
  • 5 lbs of pemmican (traditional trail food made from fat and proteins)
  • 5 lbs of gorp (raisins, m&m’s and peanuts)
  • 5 lbs of flour. (starch/carbs)

The above food would have allowed one to comfortably stay in the woods for months. If you rationed out the food even slightly, a contestant could have spent many months in the woods without ever trying to look for food. Keep in mind that this food is on top of the food that was already provided to them that didn’t count towards the ten (10) items.

Now, realistically, thinking even longer term, I would have replaced one of the food items with the fishing kit.

Personal choices aside however, this was a camping trip in a wilderness area what wasn’t exactly as wild as we were lead to believe. Add to that some other minor things like the fact that the contestants weren’t in complete isolation. They were regularly visited by medical crews, especially towards the end when they were literally starving to death. Some parts were also reenacted for the camera, etc.

What Was Real:

The above aside, some aspects of the show were quite real.

Experience at individual wilderness skills does not equal wilderness experience

The first aspect that was very real is that it clearly demonstrated the difference between backyard bushcraft/survival vs. actually having experience in the woods. Now, I know “backyard bushcraft” has a negative connotation, and my intent is not to start a fight about it. The difference I am trying to point out here is that between being skilled at individual tasks that you practice in a controlled environment and actually spending time in the woods. There is a difference between being an expert at individual wilderness skills, and being a wilderness expert. While there is clear value to practicing skills in a controlled environment, such skills do not translate well into actually spending time in the woods. There are many people who are world famous experts at flint knapping, at friction fire lighting, etc, who have never spent a night in the woods. The difference is clear, it’s very real, and it was made obvious by the show.

Considering the above abundance of gear, the fact that so many contestants couldn’t last even a handful of days in the woods, on what was pretty much a camping trip, is mind blowing. It shows the reality of what it takes to spend prolonged amounts of time in the woods. These are people who considered themselves skilled at bushcraft and survival, who have YouTube channels, who want to open bushcraft schools, etc, yet they couldn’t do what any self respecting backpacker can accomplish without even a second thought.

Some of the things we saw early on were clear indication of people who had not spent any significant amount of time in the actual woods. Things like obsession with bears, or preoccupation with making fire when you have a seeping bag, a tarp, and all the fresh rain water you could drink, are indicators of lack of wilderness experience. For anyone who spends any time in the woods, having bears around you is a common occurrence, and so is staying out for prolonged periods of time without a fire. Now, these guys are actually very skilled at individual tasks. I have seen some of them show significant skill at making feathersticks, building fires, etc. However, that is not the same as having the experience of being in the woods.

Alone very clearly demonstrated that difference, and in that respect was a very real show. That aspect is often eliminated from other “survival” shows where you have large crews, set up challenges, and nights in the hotel room.

Not everything that is edible is food

The second aspect in which the show was very real was that of food procurement in a long term survival/bushcraft situation. As outlined above, each contestant had a full camping kit with them. Many of them also chose to bring hunting and fishing implements instead of extra food, presumably because they were confident in their ability to find food. As such, the main real survival/buschraft aspect here was the procurement of enough food to sustain one’s self long term. The only thing they had to do was find enough food. The show was very realistic in showing the difficulty of doing that.

According to People magazine, Alan, who won the show and arguably did the best at finding food sources, lost 60lb in the two months during which the show lasted. That is a clearly unsustainable rate of weight loss. Even if the rest of the contestants hadn’t tapped out by that point, I imagine the production company would have shut down the show because of the danger to the contestants. I am told medical teams were regularly checking the contestants especially towards the end. This type of starvation is dangerous and can not be maintained long term. In fact, they all seemed to have been on track to confirm the old saying that one can last three months without food. Add to that, from what I have been told, the contestants were on tribal land, which removed many of the hunting and fishing regulations and restrictions we have otherwise.

The fact that all of the contestants had such a hard time finding anywhere near the necessary amount of food, even though they had few other concerns, considering that they had large amounts of camp gear to provide for their other needs, is a very real aspect of the show. I think people often overestimate their ability to find sufficient calories when in the woods, and they certainly underestimate the amount of calories one needs.

So, How Real Was It?

So, how real of a survival show was Alone? I think the answer is somewhat, but less than most people think.

The location certainly wasn’t what many of us imagined, with easy access to roads, clearings, established camp sites, a town, etc. All of the contestants also had complete camping set ups, eliminating any “survival” challenge other than possibly procuring food. A smart contestant also had the ability to bring 30lb of calorie dense food, which could have comfortably lasted them several months while they napped under a tarp in their sleeping bag. In many respects this was a camping trip in an area that has seen noticeable use by people. For a contestant who chose to bring food, it would have been a very, very regular camping trip.

What was real was the litmus test provided by the woods. It is very different to practice a skill at home, and then translate all those skills to time spent in the woods. There are many backpackers who have no idea how to use an axe, make a feather stick, or make a fire with a ferro rod, but they routinely spend extended amounts of time in the woods. Here in many of the cases we saw the opposite, people who had individual wilderness skills that they had practiced in a controlled environment at home (in that I’m including the woods behind the home), but lacked the experience of actually being in the woods for significant periods of time. With the above gear, there is no reason why anyone should have tapped out within days other than lack of experience when it comes to actually being in the woods. I think the show showed that reality very well. It also clearly showed the difficulty of long term survival in terms of food procurement. It is just not as easy as people think. If things had continued they way they had been going, I don’t think any of the contestants would have made it past three months without serious damage to their bodies.

Personally, in terms of “realness” I would rank the show below Survivorman, but above all the other survival garbage we see on TV these days. Les Stroud has been doing a similar thing, but I think he is a lot more honest about the production aspect of his show and why he is doing what he is doing.

Anyway, these are my thoughts on the show for those who were asking. Ultimately I was very disappointed when I discovered the information about the location and the gear list. I though I was watching a show that turned out to be something else entirely. With the amount of gear they had, I think it was less of a survival challenge, and more of a psychological endurance test.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Rifle Scope Basics For The Hunter

Last week I was contacted by Logan from Best Rifle Scope Review to write an article for them. I don’t have sufficient knowledge on the subject and I don’t do this for compensation, so I declined, but we did have a nice chat. I figured that I would instead write a basic intro to rifle scopes based on what I know from my personal use. If you are an experienced shooter, there won't be much here for you, but if you are just starting out, this may give you some basic info.

The Rifle Scope

These days there is a huge variation when it comes to rifle scopes. You can get anything from red dot scopes for quick target acquisition for applications like three gun competitions to computes assisted scopes that will calculate and adjust for your bullet trajectory for when, well, you want to shoot at stuff that is really, really far away. You also have everything in between. 

Since my main focus when shooting, is hunting, I have decided to focus on the more common options for a scope that could be used together with a standard hunting rifle. And while there is a vast number of considerations that could be taken into selecting a scope, since here we are talking about the basics, that’s exactly what I will try to cover.

So, you just bought your first rifle. You have selected the appropriate caliber and action for the game you are planning on hunting. Now you shift your focus to the next counter and start looking at the scopes. Shift your gaze away from that two foot long night vision scope, and focus on the standard scopes. The first thing that you should notice is that there are two main variant: a fixed magnification scope and a variable magnification scope. Each can be a good option depending on your rifle set up.

  • Fixed Power Scope

Your first option will be a fixed magnification scope.


A fixed magnifications cope is exactly what it sounds like. It offers a fixed magnification. The Weaver scope you see in the above picture is a four (4) power scope. That is a pretty standard magnification and offers a lot of versatility. Such scopes will have a designation that features two digits such as 4x28. Each number represents specific information about the scope. The first number is the magnification power of the scope. In this case “4”. This means the object will appear approximately four (4) times larger when viewed through the scope. The second number represents the diameter of the objective lens (the one opposite of where you look), measured in millimeters. In this case that’s “28” millimeters. The larger the objective lens, the more light it can gather, and the clearer the picture will be especially in low light conditions or under large magnification. 

The Weaver Classic Rimfire 4x28 Scope you see above is a fairly good representative of the scopes in this category. Their main advantage is that they are small, light, and clear. They are a very good match for small caliber rimfire rifles. I have mine mounted to a single shot .22LR rifle. While it is always tempting to go for more magnification, make sure your scope doesn’t too greatly exceed the capability of the rifle or your skill level. With the above rifle I take realistic shots of up to 50 yards. At that distance, with the above scope, drilling a target should not be a problem.

  • Variable Power Scopes

The second basic option you will have is a variable magnification scope.


A variable magnification scope will allow you to adjust the amount of magnification provided by the scope. The Nikon scope in the above picture is a pretty common example. Such scopes will have a designation that looks like 3-9x40. The “3-9” in this case represents the variation in magnification provided by the scope. Here you can adjust the magnification from a power of three (3) to a power of nine (9). The lat number, just like with the fixed power scopes designates the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. Variable power scopes generally have larger objective lenses because higher magnifications require more light for a clear sight picture.

Adjustment of the magnification is typically done by rotating a ring near the eye piece.


It is important not to get carried away when selecting such a scope. The desire always seems to be to get more and more magnification, but that can be very counter productive. Too much magnification can be worse than too little. With too much magnification you will have a harder time acquiring your target and once on your target, you may end up seeing nothing but a close up shot of a patch of magnified hair. A scope like the Nikon Prostaff 3-9x40 that you see above will serve the needs of most beginners. If you hunt in an area where you have wide open lands and long distance shots of over 200 yards are common, then more magnification may be needed. I have the scope mounted on a .308 rifle. It is good practice to turn the scope to low magnification, four (4) power or so, before going hunting. That will let you get on target quickly. If you need to acquire an animal at longer range, you can turn up the magnification later. 

Mounting The Scope

Now that you have picked out a scope, the next step is to attach it to the rifle. The first thing you should make sure is that your rifle is tapped for a scope; meaning that there are small screw holes pre-drilled that will accept the scope components. Most modern rifles should come ready for a scope, but it’s something you should double check.


The process will require two pieces of gear, a rail or base, and scope rings. The base or rail will screw onto the rifle. The scope rings will attach to the base/rail, and then hold the scope into place. Rails/bases and scope rings come in different variations, so be careful when selecting components. Here are two examples:

aIMG_0001 (3)

As you can see from the above picture, the first base and scope ring will be incompatible with the second set. Unfortunately, you will have to look at compatibility charts provided by manufacturers to make sure all of the components work together. Additionally, both the base and the rings come in different heights depending on how much clearance you need for the scope. It is extremely frustrating to mount your scope only to realize that the bolt on your action can’t clear the scope.

Once you have the components, the mounting process is simple. The rail or bases screws onto the rifle with the provided screws.



The scope rings then attach around the scope, and are in turn tightened onto the base.


Leave the scope rings slightly loose around the scope so that you can adjust it into the right position. Make sure that the vertical and horizontal axes of the scope are actually vertical and horizontal.


Additionally, you will want to move the scope back and forth in the mount until you get a clear sight picture from the position in which you typically hold your rifle. Your eye should not be touching the scope, and it should be at such a distance when you holding the rifle that no portion of the sight picture is obscured. There are much more complex issues involved here like parallax adjustment, but for a beginning set up, I don’t think it is worth mentioning anything more than to make sure that when the scope is mounted, and you hold the rifle the way you ordinarily would, the picture in the scope is not obstructed. This will require moving the scope back and forth in the scope rings.

Sighting In A Scope

Now that you have selected your scope and have mounted it, you have to sight it in. Without this final step, the crosshairs you see when you look through the scope are meaningless. You have to adjust the set up so that the crosshairs align with where the bullets are impacting. 

The issue is more complex than it appears at first glance. The problem is that the scope and the rifle barrel will never be truly parallel to each other, and that bullets fly in an arc, not a straight line. The result is that when you sight in your scope, you have to sight it in at a specific distance. Once done, you will know that with this rifle, with specific ammunition, at a specific distance, the crosshairs on the scope will exactly match where the bullets are impacting. When shooting at different ranges, you will have to compensate by aiming higher or lower than the desired impact point, or with more advanced scopes by dialing in the corrections into the scope.

The first step however is to sight in your scope. The first decision you will have to make is at what distance you would like to sight in your scope, i.e. at what distance do you want the crosshairs to match the bullet impact site. The answer will depend on what type of hunting you do, and what type of rifle and ammunition you are using. There is no point in sighting in a scope at 200 yards when you are shooting .22LR ammunition which will never be used at such range. I sight in my rifles at 50 yards, even my .308. The reason is that I generally hunt in northeastern woodlands, and I virtually never have visibility of over 50 yards. As such, most shots are taken under that range. If you are hunting in wide open areas, where you are routinely taking 200 yard shots, than perhaps that would be an appropriate distance to sight in your scope, assuming you are firing the proper ammunition.

So, you have picked a range at which you want to sight in your rifle, let’s say 100 yards. You go to a rifle range, set up a bench with sand bags, position your rifle, take aim at your target at the 100 yard mark, and fire. What ends up happening is this:

crosshairs 2   

You intended to hit the target at the crosshairs, but the bullet impacted at the red X. You fire a few more shots, with the exact same result. Now what? Well, now you have to adjust the scope so that the cross hairs align with the spot where the bullets are impacting. The adjustment will be done with the scope turret. In the middle of your scope will be a horizontal and vertical cap. Once you remove them, you will see adjustment dials.


On most scopes there will be an indication of the adjustment increments that can be made. On the above scope, each click moves the cross hairs 1/4 inch at 100 yards. If you are sighting in at a different distance, you will have to extrapolate the amount of adjustment (for the above scope, you will get 1/2 inch adjustment at 50 yards, and 1/8 adjustment at 200 yards). By looking at your target you can approximate exactly how far you need to move the cross hairs. Assuming that in the above made up picture of a scope sight, each marking represents an inch, you would have to move the cross hairs right about an inch (4 clicks at 100 yards) and about inch and a half up (6 clicks at 100 yards).

Make the adjustments and fire again. Continue to make small adjustments as necessary until you start to group hits at the location of the crosshairs.

Now, the above is the ideal example of sighting in a scope, and of course there are many other methods. This is just the one I use. Unfortunately, on many occasions, you will mount a new scope, go to the range, set up your bench, fire a few shots, and not a single one will land on the target. How do you make adjustments then? Most people then start making wild adjustments in the hopes of getting a bullet somewhere on the board. There are two much better ways to deal with such a scenario.

If you are at an indoor range, start by sighting in your scope at a very short distance. Bring the target in at 15 yards, and repeat the above process. The closer target will make sure that the bullets land on paper so you can make your adjustments. Once that is done, move the target back to the desired distance, and refine your adjustments.

If you are at an outdoor range, many will reserve the short distances for pistols only. As such, you will not be able to use the above technique. In such a situation, instead of aiming at the target, pick a spot (small pebble, piece of paper, etc) on the sand backstop or on the ground near the target. Fire at that spot and look to see where the bullet impacts the sand. There will be a visible puff of sand or dirt that will go up when the bullet impacts. If it is two feet to the right of the spot where you aimed, then you know in which direction and by approximately how much to dial in your scope. Once the bullets start impacting the sand near the area where you are aiming, you can transition to the target and refine your sighting.  

Lastly, now that you have sighted in your scope at a particular range, let’s say 100 yards, what do you do when you need to shoot at different distances. If you have watched any movies about snipers, you have probably seen them adjust their scope right before shooting as their spotter calls out distances and wind conditions. Some precision scopes have turrets designed for exactly such use. However, for the average user with a normal scope, that is not a viable approach.

The most common technique used by hunters is a D.O.P.E. (Data On Previous Engagements) chart or ballistics chart. Such a chart estimates based on the physical properties of the ammunition, the path the bullet will take, and consequently where it will impact at any given distance.

As I mentioned earlier, bullets travel in an arc. The moment the bullet is fired, it starts to decelerate and to fall towards the ground. When you sighted in your scope at 100 yards, you intersected that bullet arc at a particular point.


Generally speaking, if your scope’s line of aim intersects the bullet arc at exactly 100 yards, then at 50 yards the bullet will be impacting higher than your point of aim (the crosshairs), while at 200 yards, it will be impacting below your point of aim. The exact shape of the ark depends on the ammunition you are using. A .22LR will have a much more pronounced arc that a flatter flying bullet from a cartridge like the .17HMR.

There are ballistics calculators available online which will give you the exact point of impact for your specific rifle and ammunition combination to any given distance. I find however that for the average hunter, just taking a few test shots at the range will give you a good picture of what adjustments you will need to make to your aim when in the field. If your rifle is sighted in at 100 yards, fire a few shots at 50 yards, a few at 150 yards, etc. Note how far from the point of aim the bullet hits. If you see that at 200 yards your bullets are consistently impacting an inch below your point of aim, then in the field just aim about an inch higher than your desired target when shooting at that range. If you like, make yourself a chart recoding the drop for reference in the field. Again, if you are hunting at very long ranges, more precise calculations will be required, but for general use, most people can make reasonable adjustments without too much hassle.

Now, these are the basics, or at least as I know them. There is much more you can do and learn on the subject. If you have the above covered however, you should be able to get out in the field and conduct a successful hunt, at least from the sighting perspective.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Trip Report: Stoppel Point Airplane Crash Site 8/22/15 – 8/23/15

For my trip this past weekend I decided to go look for another one of the airplane crash sites that litter the Catskill Mountains. According to my research, there would be two crash sites located near Stoppel Point in the Windham Blackhead Range Wilderness in the Catskills. I did some research on the crash sites. It indicated that one of the sites would be easy to reach. It would be easily accessible from the trail which I could follow up North Mountain. The second crash site is supposed to be near the same location but at about 2800 feet down the north side of the east side of the ridge between North Mountain and Stoppel Point. I was able to find only one report confirming the existence of this second site, and it was reached following the recovery route from the base of the mountain. I figured that I would aim for the easily accessible first site, and then I would try to descend down the mountain to look for the second one. I simply wouldn’t have time to attempt the second site from the base of the mountain.

Stoppel Point

In the above map the blue line indicates my approximate path up the mountain. The two Xs show the approximate locations of the two crash sites. The yellow line is the path of my attempted descend to the second crash site.

So, I started out fairly early in the morning. It would be approximately five to six miles to reach the first crash site, and I wanted to have enough time for an attempt on the second one. Parts of the scent are very steep, so I wanted to leave a good margin.

I found the trail and started following it up the mountain.


With the heavy rain we have been getting on and off the past few weeks, the mushrooms were out.





So when I was done with the mushroom photo shoot, I got to some of the tougher sections of the trail. Right before reaching the rock outcrop known as North Point, I stopped for lunch.


From there it was a short push up to North Point, which marks the beginning of the ridge to Stoppel Point. It also gives a very good view of the Hudson River as well as North and South Lakes.


I continued to follow the trail along the ridge. It was easier going because the elevation changes were minor, but the trail itself was very rocky and a real ankle twister.

After making steady progress for another hour or two, I reached the area around Stoppel Point.


From there it was a short distance to the first crash site. The airplane was largely intact. I couldn’t locate the engine, but the fuselage and wings were intact.




Now it was time for the hard part of the trip. It was nearing 3 o’clock, and I had just enough time to trace back along the trail to the approximate location of the second crash site, and try to descend down the mountain in search for it.

There are two challenges in attempting to find the second crash site from the top of the ridge. The first is the extremely steep slope; the second is the extremely dense ferns. The combination is particularly tough because it makes it impossible to find a good line down the slope. I spent nearly two hours trying to make my way down. I would descend twenty to thirty feet, reach a sheer drop off, then have to trace back, try another approach, go down a bit further, and repeat. After two hours of trying, I had managed to descend only about a quarter of the way to the supposed crash location. This is what I saw the whole way:




As you guys know, I’m not opposed to doing stupid things, but this got too dangerous even for my liking. It became clear to me that even if I managed to make it down, I would not be able to climb back up. I would have to then descend all the way down the mountain and then make my way around it. That wasn’t in the plans, so I turned back. Now, I’m sure there is a route down, it’s just that it’s impossible to see. It’s hard to know if a particular route would lead all the way down, or if it will dead end at a vertical cliff fifty feet further down. Any way, it took me another hour to climb back up, and another half an hour to find the trail because I was so turned around. This boys and girls is what defeat looks like:


Any way, I got back up and traced my way along the ridge for a bit, and then set up camp for the night.


I still had an hour or so to kill before sunset, so I made myself a pine resin candle from some dead moss and well, pine resin. That got my spirits up.


After that it was off to bed. I got up before sunrise and quickly packed up. My goal was to get back to North Point to catch the sunrise.



From there I made my way down the mountain, looking for water sources. I had finished the last bit of my water in the morning. I eventually found a small seep not too far from the top of the mountain, and stopped to fill up one of my bottles.


Nothing to do after that, but make my way out. It was very disappointing that I wasn’t able to reach the second crash site, but I still feel that the risk would have been too great if I had kept going. I think it will have to be the subject of another trip where I give it a try from the base of the east side of the ridge.