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PA Game Commission changing leadership

Kind of a wildlife management wild ride here in the Keystone State, though it is tough to tell if anyone really noticed or if anyone really cared. I care. People who care about animals should care.

In just a few weeks the Pennsylvania Game Commission has gone from from a very traditional conservation leadership style and background to a new style and background we have not seen in over a hundred years. I think this is a good thing, though I am sad about how it happened.

Recall that several months ago, attorney Steve Smith was promoted from director of the PGC’s Bureau of Information to deputy director of the agency, second in command to executive director Bryan Burhans. A good choice, as Smith is the very image of the dutiful, honest, earnest, hard working, straight shooting, unemotional, careful, procedurally diligent government employee. While PGC is a long way from the colorful Wild West frontier culture it once had, it still has a shadow of a bunker mentality and insular culture that do not serve the agency, its employees, or the public, and Steve is not representative of that.

Where Bryan Burhans had worked at the American Chestnut Foundation and other iconic conservation and wildlife management groups, with direct personal contacts in the nonprofit and foundation world, Steve Smith is an attorney who just happens to hunt, fish, and trap, and of course share the wildlife and habitat conservation ethos that animates hunters, trappers, and “fisherpeople” everywhere.

A devoted family man, Smith worked in private legal practice before joining PGC’s legal staff about 16 years ago. Where Burhans carried the mail for nonprofit advocacy groups both out of PGC and in it, which is the traditional model for wildlife management agency leaders across America, Smith has been long focused on public agency nuts and bolts. Dotting I’s and crossing T’s in the shadow of big speeches and public policy debates.

There is a gigantic world of difference between these two men, Bryan and Steve; their backgrounds, personalities, and outlooks could not be more different. Again, we are going from strength to strength with the change.

Bryan Burhans gets tons and tons of credit for gently, sometimes assertively molding the PGC into a more publicly accessible, publicly responsive public agency. Unlike most of his predecessors, Bryan was not a former Game Warden. And so from his own get-go seven years ago he was less insular, less committed to the law enforcement view of all things wildlife.

Yes, if you read some news reports about Bryan’s departure a couple weeks ago, you will then read about some state lawmakers griping that the agency is still not as accessible or responsive as the PA Fish & Boat Commission. I am sure that is true, and for good reasons. But compared to where the once insular and bunker-mentality PGC was, say, ten years ago, or especially twenty-five years ago, it is light years better now. Much improved. And, gasp if you must, the PGC actually now employs women in senior positions. This may be not big news to most people, but it is a fact that wildlife agencies are notoriously hide-bound and ultra traditional, the PGC having rung the bell in this regard for a long time. Celebrated wildlife biologists like Mary Jo Casalena may work for PGC, but it is as rare as hen turkey teeth that they also then get into senior management positions.

What is interesting about Steve Smith’s elevation to executive director upon Bryan’s departure is that we are actually seeing Pennsylvania wildlife management style return back to the days of Kolbfus and Pinchot – Americans without the supposedly key wildlife science “credentials” who simply care very much about wildlife, environmental quality, and habitat, and who have the intellectual capacity and personal management skills to implement the necessary policies.

PGC’s executive director is going from an outspoken advocate (albeit occasionally for things unrelated to wildlife management) to a quiet, humble, careful, almost reticent thinker. I am lamenting Bryan’s good-bye, because he did an outsanding job, and I am also really welcoming Steve’s hello. I believe that the many passionate watchers and stakeholders of PGC will be happy with Steve’s leadership there. Of course, those hunters who demand more deer than the landscape or society can sustain will never be satisfied, and I feel sorry for those people.

talkin turkey


Spring Turkey Season is almost upon us here in Pennsylvania, and around the country. A great deal of the wild turkey breeding season is already behind us, and the significant challenge of calling in a “lovesick tom” at the tail end of the breeding period is now laid before several hundred thousand dedicated and novice turkey hunters alike, here in PA.

Couple of reminders, and one big observation:

  1. Please do not drive up and down country roads making hen calls out the window of your vehicle, waiting to hear a gobble in response. While it may bring some hunters a premature auditory orgasm to hear the lusty gobbler responses, all this activity really does is educate turkeys about fake calls by fake hen turkeys. And when tom turkeys get unnecessarily educated by guys peeing in their pants with excitement, said toms become a zillion times harder to hunt and bag. It takes the fun out of an already difficult hunt. Don’t do it. Please.
  2. Clearly identify your male turkey’s red or white head before pulling the trigger on its neck. If all turkey hunters only pulled the trigger when they had absolutely positively identified their target, there would be no heartbreaking hunting accidents during spring turkey season. And when you read the facts surrounding those hunting accidents or negligent shootings, you realize that some people are about to pee in their pants with excitement and so they shoot a human being “in mistake” of a turkey. By only putting our trigger finger on the shotgun trigger when the gobbler’s head is both clearly visible and in range, we bypass a lot of dangerous excitement.

Finally, in a certain nook up north, I have been enjoying the sounds once again of spring gobblers sounding off for probably six weeks now. Few have been the wild turkey gobbles there over the past ten to twelve years, an absence always correlated with the physical evidence of a resident fisher. In other words, fishers have eaten the hell out of our wild turkeys, and only after someone traps the local fisher do the turkey populations begin to rebound. This fact has been driven home for me year after year across southcentral, central, and northcentral PA; fishers have been real hard on our wild turkeys.

Not to say that fishers don’t have a place in Penn’s Woods, they do, of course. But the policy implications of widespread fishers should have been better considered before the giddiness of super-predator 100% ecosystem saturation overtook wildlife managers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And now Pennsylvania is contemplating releasing pine martens into Penn’s Woods…..knowing already that they eat the hell out of grouse, and that PA’s grouse are in very bad shape.

I don’t mind having a decent population of fishers and pine martens up north in the Big Woods, where they will have the least amount of impact on other wildlife across the entire state. What I do object to is sacrificing the enormous wild turkey conservation success story on the altar of “more predators are better than few” mindset of some wildlife managers. Sometimes, we just have to accept that we can’t wind the clock back to the year 1650, or even 1750, because the few successes we have managed to rack up, like wild turkeys brought back from extinction, is as good as it can get.

Sometimes, good is good enough, and the rest we just need to leave well enough alone.

A fisher in New Hampshire, from wikipedia. Fishers are giant weasels. They eat everything.

 

 

Central PA candidates on the ballot

Because I am a “politico” actively involved in politics, friends, family, and strangers ask my opinion on candidates running for political office.

Here are the people I am voting for on next week’s Republican primary election ballot:

President: Donald J. Trump, of course. President Trump is all that stands between We, The People and chaos and the forced failure of America as the representative constitutional republic we have enjoyed since 1789.

Attorney General: Dave Sunday. He has a strong 2A background and is endorsed by Gun Owners of America, whereas his opponent has a very poor 2A record.

Congress: Scott Perry. Scott continues to reliably do what an elected official is supposed to do. He has gotten a lot quieter since the lawless Democrat Party thugs known as “FBI agents” stopped his car and stole his cell phone from him at gunpoint last year. Nonetheless, Scott continues to vote for We, The People, like voting against the FISA renewal. FISA has been used by the FBI to conduct lawless, warrantless domestic spying against everyday American citizens.

US Senator: Mickey Mouse. I literally wrote in Mickey Mouse because the GOPe endorsed and orchestrated puppet strings candidate whose name appears on the ballot spent time and money to knock off the ballot several other candidates who would have competed with him in this primary race. What a scumbag.

Auditor General: Tim DeFoor. Tim is a solid citizen and one of the very few now career politicians I can support. I have watched him work his way through the political process, and though he is not ideological, he comes to his traditional views honestly, from the way he grew up, which I can respect.

State Senator: Nick DiFrancesco. This is a newer version of the state senate district seat I ran for in 2012 and 2015, and I have a lot of familiarity with its voters. Nick is an all-around politico who has been a Dauphin County commissioner and has held other publicly visible positions of trust. Nick is presently Dauphin County treasurer, and I believe he represents the only chance normal taxpaying citizens in our region have to stop far-left radical Patty Kim from inheriting this seat in a heavily gerrymandered district made just for her. The other candidate is Ken Stambaugh, who I have had the pleasure of speaking with at length and staying in touch with. Heck of a nice man, good intentions, and not a political animal. My opinion is Ken would stand zero chance against Patty Kim. I yearn for the days when America would naturally and easily elect good people like Ken to office, but unfortunately spring 2024 is as far away from those old days as America can get. We need political warriors.

State Treasurer: Stacy Garrity. Wish we had a primary opponent just for voter choice.

Representative in General Assembly (State House 103rd district): Cindi Ward. Wish we had a primary opponent just for voter choice.

Representative in General Assembly (State House 100th district): Dave Nissley. Failed incumbent and career political hack Bryan Cutler has been a disaster for central Pennsylvania voters who care about good policy and clean politics. Cutler got into elected politics at a very young age, and he just learned bad habit after bad habit along the way. Dave Nissley is by far the better man and the better candidate, and he has been endorsed by Gun Owners of America.

Delegate to the Republican National Convention: Jeff Haste, Sue Helm, George Margetas, and Charlie Gerow. Both Jeff and Sue are well known central PA pro 2A advocates. George Margetas is a local attorney who like so many of us went along with the covid tyranny mask nonsense in 2020, but who then bucked it publicly afterwards when it was clearly evident that covid was about political control and not about public health. I like a strong man who stands up for freedom. Last but not least is well known local politico and lobbyist Charlie Gerow, who I have known for many years and who is one of the few lobbyists I actually like.

The other RNC candidates have either zero about them available online, which tells us they are hiding, fakes, RINOs, or Democrats, or they have something about being “a fiscal conservative,” which is always a red flag for social conservatives looking for strong candidates who will represent traditional values and meritocracy. So-called “fiscal conservatives” rarely are, and they are always social liberals. No thanks.

Your political action in 2024, like voting and volunteering for candidates, is as important as 1776

Pitfalls and pratfalls of primary elections for candidates and volunteers alike

While digging through old stuff in my office recently, I encountered a bag in a corner with a bunch of campaign tee shirts made for volunteers who had helped me run in the 2010 primary race for congress here in central PA. Seeing the pinned-on names on each shirt, I felt embarrassed that somehow I had neglected to get these tokens of appreciation into the hands of those dedicated volunteers. They had donated their time to me, to a campaign they believed in, and it is absolutely incumbent upon all candidates to express appreciation, and show it if they can, to their volunteers, win or lose. Here was evidence that I had failed to do that fully with these several people whose names appeared on the tee shirts, and it made me feel badly.

Fast forward fourteen years, and I have just learned by doing an internet search that a political candidate I had contributed real time and effort to had dropped out of the race last Thursday. This person and I had exchanged many emails and texts for the past month, I had drafted a press release for her, and gotten her about forty ballot petition signatures to help get her on the April 23 ballot. Despite all my time and effort on her behalf, I did not qualify for the email the media says she sent to her supporters, announcing her bowing out of the race. I felt like all my time and effort dedicated to this person was not appreciated or valued, which makes one feel badly.

Dear political candidates, you have to express your appreciation to your volunteers! Volunteers are how every campaign runs, whether it succeeds or fails, and showing your appreciation to the people who make up the campaign is your duty to those people who take time away from their families, their businesses, jobs, etc to help you get ahead. Failing to express appreciation hurts not just your own reputation, but it also leaves your volunteers wondering if they should ever volunteer on a campaign again for anyone else.

I have seen other candidates cold-drop their volunteers when the campaign ends, and even drop their campaign staff. This is usually due to the exhaustion a candidate feels at the end of the race. Campaigns are all brutal exercises, all-out sprints over a relatively short amount of time, and at their end usually everyone involved is feeling tapped out and emotionally drained. It is tough to sustain that high energy after the race ends, but again, dear candidates, you absolutely owe it to your volunteers to say Thank You. An email, some text messages, some cards to the people who put in the most work and hours. Tee shirts if you made them.

What took out this latest candidate I was helping was Pennsylvania’s archaic ballot petition process. Depending upon the office sought (state house, dog catcher, US senate, congress etc) candidates for office in Pennsylvania are required to collect hundreds or even thousands of registered voter signatures on complicated forms where the slightest mistake, mis-spelling, or poorly written word can result in a disqualification. There is an entire arcane process surrounding the screening, challenging, and defending of the ballot petition signatures. The only people who benefit from this are the attorneys who specialize in this arcana, and the two main political parties.

If enough of the candidate’s ballot signatures get disqualified, then the candidate does not achieve the minimal threshold of signatures, and does not qualify to be on the ballot. A lot of hard work and volunteer hours can get flushed down the drain if insufficient signatures are obtained to keep the candidate on the ballot.

PA’s complicated ballot petition process is designed by and for the political parties, which have the experienced volunteers, lawyers, and updated voter lists necessary to get far more signatures than are needed. It is designed to keep political outsiders out of office, and political insiders in.

According to this now un-candidate’s statement in the news article, the attorney who challenged her ballot petition signatures had also threatened to bury her campaign in a pile of legal costs if she tried to fight her way through all the nit-picky challenges. All indications are that US Senate candidate David McCormick is behind this challenge and threat. This is really about a billionaire bully booting pesky candidates out of his way on his path to self-serving elected office.

Yuck.

Pennsylvania voters want choice, and we do not benefit from the current ballot petition process, which was once described to me by a Dauphin County Republican Committee Woman as a necessary precaution to prevent “unqualified people” from running for office.

Said I, “Why don’t we just let anyone run who wants to run? Shouldn’t all citizens have a right to run, aren’t we all qualified?  Isn’t that the heart and soul of the democratic process, to keep it as open and accessible to The People as possible?

Said she, “That sounds like too much democracy to me.

And so we see yet another victim of this ridiculous gatekeeper process, which both political parties can agree must be kept intact so they can retain maximum control of who gets to run, and who does not. It is really about control, not democracy.

Yuck.

These are some of the pitfalls of running for political office here in Pennsylvania, and while some are unavoidable, it is best to work hard to avoid the pratfalls: Campaign volunteers and supporters will always appreciate and fondly remember a kind word, a nice email or text message saying thanks. And also will they remember that their hard work went unnoticed and unremarked in the end, and so they will feel used.

Double yuck.

 

Putin murdered Navalny and is no saint, and you are your own leader

Political candidate, longtime Putin critic, and political prisoner Alexei Navalny (aged 47) was murdered in a Russian prison last week. Like the murder of Jeffrey Epstein in a supposedly heavily guarded and monitored prison in America, Navalny’s murder was also done to send a signal about who is in charge, this time in Russia.

The person in charge of Russia is Vladimir Putin, president for life and de facto dictator. Putin is known for poisoning his critics (Navalny was previously poisoned while abroad, and survived to bravely return home to challenge Putin in rigged elections, and was then jailed), having them thrown out of windows (too many examples to count), having them brutally murdered in the streets, and having them encounter impossible “accidents” like when the airplane they are on just mysteriously blows up in the middle of the sky without any warning.

I know that a lot of Americans are justifiably frustrated by the lack of leadership in America. While the Democrat Party is busy blowing up and setting America on fire, and illegally importing a veritable army of military-age illegal alien men, which is a dereliction of duty and outright treason, the Republican Party and almost all of its elected officials from coast to coast are spineless, flaccid, weak kneed, limp wristed, whiny, two faced girly men (first reference to GOPers as girly men was here on this blog months ago, and then used by Wayne Root, for which we are honored) who can’t do anything, not a damned single thing, to oppose or resist the Democrats.

These Republicans were elected on the basis of their campaigns, where they promised to be leaders, and lead on issues their voters care about. But they get into office and just don’t do anything. We have seen the same empty campaign promises here in Pennsylvania, where the vast majority of elected Republicans just can’t or just won’t say anything about election integrity.

In October and November 2020, the overwhelmingly Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature could have easily impeached and removed those PA Supreme Court justices who unconstitutionally turned PA law and constitution alike on their heads to make way for the theft of the 2020 election from President Donald Trump in favor of the non-campaigning basement dwelling zero-charisma plagiarist and serial liar Joe Biden.

But the PA GOP did nothing, absolutely nothing. Zero. And even now, asking people like state senator John Disanto to publicly say something meaningful about election integrity is like questioning the law of gravity. And as a result, elections are stolen and America is going up in flames.

So yes, there is a huge failure in leadership everywhere around us, at every level, and so yes, Americans are desperate for leadership anywhere they can find it. And so up steps Vladimir Putin to both attack the globalist swamp in Ukraine and to also stand firmly for his own country (imagine that) and for his church and history (doubly imagine that). And all of a sudden a void is filled, and Vladimir Putin becomes the embodiment of leadership to many Americans.

Stop it, people. Putin is not any kind of leader that any kind of traditional freedom-loving American can relate to or support. He is a cruel, evil, murderous tyrant who brooks zero opposition or even questioning. Yes, he has some good qualities, no, those qualities do not outweigh the terrible things he is doing to his political rivals or to Ukrainian civilians, much less to the American Dollar.

Forty-seven-year-old Alexei Navalny was just murdered in cold blood in a dark and cold jail cell, in the middle of Russia, alone without his wife or friends to hold his hand and comfort him, for the simple reason that he posed a threat to Putin’s illegal grip on absolute power.

We Americans are witnessing the same exact thing happening here in America, where absolutely innocent and peaceful protestors from January 6th 2021 are still being rounded up by gangs of federal Gestapo thugs and held in solitary confinement, without medical care, with inadequate food and water, under terribly unsanitary conditions, for the simple reason that they represent a We, The People response to the stolen election dictatorship of Joe Biden and his posse of lawless and violent federal employees.

So if you oppose what Joe Biden is doing here in America, you must oppose what Vladimir Putin is doing in Russia and in Ukraine. Standing up for freedom and for The People’s political opposition like Navalny and Trump doesn’t mean you automatically have to whole-hog embrace everything about Putin, or anyone else for that matter.

And I will bet that if you ask Russians, they will have mixed opinions about Putin. I will bet they admire and appreciate his strength and passion for Russia, but also reject his lawless violence and unnatural grip on absolute power.

When dictators in Russia or America resort to jailing their opponents, and killing them, they are illegitimate, and The People can and should rise up and take back what belongs to them. We, The People are the leaders we have been longing for.

Two great shows coming up soon!

Two great shows are coming up soon. If you live in central Pennsylvania, then fortunate you. If you live farther out or even far away, even out of state, both are worth traveling to, even from far, far away.

The first show starts this Friday, the 18th Century Artisan’s Faire, now (as of last year) held in Carlisle, PA, at the Carlisle Expo Center at 100 K Street. It used to be called the Lewisburg Show, because for decades it was held in Lewisburg, PA, along Route 15. The Carlisle Expo Center is SO MUCH BETTER than the prior hotel venue. I went to this show last year and could have easily spent both days there. Better lay-out, better room, more room, higher ceilings and far better lighting.

If you are afflicted with history-itis, with a passion for hand-made tools and utensils of all sorts, including eating utensils like forks and knives and plates, with blacksmithing and historic reenacting, with hand-carved curly maple furniture and gunstocks, leatherworking, with anything black powder or flintlock or percussion, with 17th and 18th century clothing, then this show is for you. I have been attending for I don’t know how many years, a long time, and every time I go it’s worth it. The nationwide talent that is assembled at this show is amazing to experience.

The second show starts this Saturday, the Great American Outdoor Show. It is held for the whole week in Harrisburg at the Farm Show Complex on Cameron Street. This is the “new” show built on the ashes of the old one, which I helped end by starting a boycott.

The prior show was run by a British promoter, and they had no feel for America, Americans, guns, gun rights etc. In the immediate political backwash of another Democrat-run mass school shooting, that British promoter tried to prohibit exhibitors from having AR-15 platform rifles. That set off a slight negative reaction among the paid participants, advertisers, and attendees that culminated in the boycott, which ended the show that year. And it ended that tone deaf promoter’s role in the show ever-after.

In the press interviews I did about shutting down that show, my favorite quote was “The British did not understand Americans in 1776, and they still don’t understand us in 2012.”

To which I think we can easily now add the entire Democrat Party, because it is openly and officially the political party of big government, of citizen disarmament and gun confiscation, of digital currency and your money control, of high taxes, of speech control, of thought control, of censorship, of car control, of health care control, of Covid lockdowns and private citizen movement control, but not USA border control.

Nope, under the Democrat Party the American border is wide freakin’ open to tens of millions of anyone and everyone from around the world.

So, go to these two shows. Both are very family friendly, regardless of what your family members each like. You will be really happy you did go. Enjoy America and freedom while you still can.

On Friday and Saturday you can rub elbows with gunpowder horn makers, flint knappers, flintlock and percussion rifle makers, black powder bag makers, historic dress and bonnet makers, tri-corner hat makers, and blacksmiths.

On Sunday you can go to the Farm Show Complex and see the whole world of tactical socks and vests, endless semiauto blast-em rifles as well as very cool historic lever action rifles and Wild West revolvers, bushcraft duck calls, high fence deer hunting legends and other TV created one-dimensional personalities, useful ATVs, fabulous boats, and cool end-of-the-world survival RVs, high tech synthetic and high tech  wool outdoor boots and clothing, hunting guides from all around the world, and all kinds of fishing stuff. The Great American Outdoor Show really is an amazing experience. I highly recommend it.

I myself will be both a visitor and a volunteer at the GAOS. After many years of volunteering at the show and its predecessor, I took 2021-2023 off. This year I will be volunteering one or two days with the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, a wonderful conservation group of which I am a Life Member. Come on by the PTA booth and chat with us!

Gunmaker extraordinaire Mitch Yates

Leatherman’s new proprietor with his wares, which many black powder hunters use nationwide

Hoffman Forge. Jymm Hoffman made the outstanding modern steel anvil that we use in our own forge

I am a proud volunteer with the Pennsylvania Trappers Association at the GAOS.

Reviewing the Marlin 1895 SBL

I have had some Marlin rifles, and what American deer, bear, or small game hunter doesn’t have one or two along the way in a life in the woods. But I never got so excited about one of them that I needed to join an online forum to discuss them and compare notes on handloads (handloads are non-commercial ammunition loaded by hand by the end-user, on a personally owned loading press, allowing the shooter to tailor ammunition to exacting tolerances and specific uses). This changed with the purchase of a new Ruger-made Marlin 1895 SBL, which I am really liking (after sending it back for much needed warranty work immediately after taking possession of it brand new in the box from the factory – ahem).

Overview

The new Ruger-made Marlin 1895 SBL (https://www.americanrifleman.org/content/2023-rifle-of-the-year-marlin-1895-sbl/) is a rugged, well designed firearm that I bought for two reasons and for two uses: It is fast shooting and unusually hard hitting within 50-60 yards for a sporting rifle, and I cannot think of a better rifle to hunt with on our bear drives here in PA and on bear hunts in Alaska.

After several months of ownership, here are my experiences with this gun.

Despite purchasing it brand new from the factory, I returned it to Marlin one day after picking it up from the gunshop, because the lever screw backed out, the action kept binding up, it was difficult to cycle the lever, had lots of sharp metal edges, and proud wood around the tang. This gun should have never been allowed out of the factory in the first place, and yet the buyer demand is so high that there must be pressure on the factory to just sling them out the door. According to reports made by other new owners, my experience is not unique. Ruger Marlin is going to kill their golden goose if they keep up this sloppy behavior. The gun is being sold on its presumed high quality.

The “Improved, slimmer” Forearm

While Marlin touts that the new, improved 1895 SBL forearm is slimmer than the old one, it is still too fat. This forearm is hardly easy to handle, and is not slim by any definition. It can easily use another 1/8” shaved off each side, or more, and tapered, like a shotgun forearm. That is, if you mean what you say about the forearm being easier to handle, dear Marlin.

Floppy Trigger Syndrome

The SBL’s factory trigger is pretty good, though it could be better. It is almost crisp, with a very defined and short step of creepy travel, and no stacking, but is a bit heavier than I and other users would like. It works well as a hunting trigger, which is all it really has to do anyhow. I don’t think this trigger was designed by a liability-minded lawyer. Other reviewers have reported that their 1895 SBL triggers were coming in between 5.5 to 8.5 pounds pull weight, and I am just guessing that this particular gun’s trigger is around 5.5 pounds. My preference would be in the 2.5-4.0 pound pull weight range, but I do not believe this factory trigger is adjustable. So “it is what it is,” as that tired old cliché goes, though there are superior aftermarket triggers available (https://www.wildwestguns.com/product/trigger-happy-kit/). One thing I do not like about the factory trigger is that it flops around and can make a tiny metallic sound. It would be preferable that it be stationary, locked in place, and not make noise. Because it’s on a hunting gun, and hunters require stealth. Nonetheless, the factory trigger works well as-is, and it certainly could be a lot worse.

One Rugged Beast

The SBL is one well made and tightly built rugged beast, and I think this is one of the main reasons for its popularity. Stainless steel and high tech laminate wood on anything, especially a firearm, mean it is made for southeast Alaska, at least, or anywhere else that is physically challenging and frequently wet and/or loaded with salt air. This is a rugged gun that should take all the wet and salty environment that could ever be encountered under normal hunting or camping conditions. The stainless steel does result in a shiny, reflective presence, however, and maybe too shiny for a hunting gun. Someone out there is going to bead blast their SBL for good reason, and thereby start a trend.

OK, I Guess Modern Hunting Guns are High Tech

Because I am a devoted black powder shooter and hunter, and because the year 1895 was the pinnacle of firearm development for people addicted to antiques and history like me, and because I prefer break-action single shots and double rifles over all other types of sporting guns, and because nicely blued or blacked steel with figured walnut make the most attractive firearms, I have heretofore been positively allergic to stainless steel and plastic modern guns. Everything about them just irked the crap out of me. Modern sporting firearms are just not appealing to me on any ground, most especially because nearly all of them are just plain ugly as hell. But in recent years I came to recognize that the most beautiful sporting arms can and likely will be destroyed by extended visits to places like Alaska, and so I came to a form of détente on this conundrum by recognizing the unique abilities of the SBL, and only the SBL. Its traditional lever action form is recognizable as quintessentially American, even in stainless and epoxy laminate.

The SBL is not only stainless steel and laminate wood that you can dig out a fox hole with, it also comes with a screw-off end cap for attaching a sound suppressor or a muzzle brake. Neither of these make any damned sense to me on this gun in the relatively quiet out-of-the-box 45-70, but whatever. People who are already crazed about suppressors and high tech gear-queer technical gobbledygook like muzzle brakes on deer cartridges will have all the joys of toys their little flaming hearts desire with this rifle’s little bells and whistles. Leave me out of it. To me, this is just a reliable, fast action mechanical gun in a caliber I can rely on in close-quarters grizzly country, end of technical story.

However, the factory attached Picatinny rail is pretty intriguing, even if it is also downright fugly as sin. It blows up and sets on fire whatever nice lines the 1895 SBL had to start with, but it is a valuable addition for those who use scopes and red dots and other training wheel tubular sighting contrivances on guns that don’t need them. I myself have not yet needed to use a scope on any gun I own, much less this lever action, and so this Picatinny rail is of no use to me. But in the interest of not “fixing” things that are not broken, I will leave it attached to my rifle and just hope it stops jabbing me in the proverbial eye every time I look at the gun.

This Gun Can SHOOT

Accuracy out of the box indicates these are being roughly sighted in at the factory with a laser bore sight, which is a good place to start shooting it in for hunting accuracy after you take possession of it. Do not take your 1895 SBL hunting out of the box! A fair amount of adjusting the rear peep sight for windage and elevation was necessary to get this one dialed in point-of-aim at 70 yards, which is the likely range I will be using it (see below for the deer I took with it this week at a measured 151 yards). Four shots were needed to get it centered, using the Hornady LeveRevolution 325 grain FTX, which is pretty much the standard factory ammunition designed for this gun.

Reloaders be aware that the loaded Hornady FTX brass is trimmed back shorter to accommodate the long ogive on their polymer-tipped FTX bullet that comes with their factory ammunition. You might be able to reload the Hornady factory ammunition FTX empty brass, depending on which bullet you use, and I certainly will try. If you are reloading with the Hornady FTX, then the empty brass can be reloaded without any fussing or fooling around. Other bullets, I don’t know. The 45-70 brass of any manufacturer is expensive enough to warrant trying to reload each one as many times as possible.

Accuracy is excellent after dialing in the open sights. Surprisingly good. Actually, amazingly good. This is, after all, a lever action with a short barrel, and historically these kinds of guns were mostly utilitarian 3” MOA (achieving three-inch groups at 100 yards) hunting weapons. The 26” barrel Henry 45-70 I hunted with in Alaska last year was achieving 3” groups at 100 yards with both Federal and Hornady ammo, so accuracy better than minute-of-deer in this thumper cartridge is a welcome surprise, emphasis being on the surprise. The SBL is very accurate, with surprisingly tight groups. I have read about many shooters getting MOA and even sub-MOA accuracy out of the 1895 SBL. Apparently even the old problematic “Remlin” 1895s had outstanding barrels. The new Ruger Marlin barrels are apparently just as good, if not better. This lever action gun provides accuracy expected of high quality bolt actions. Impressive and most welcome.

Its Open Sights

Yes, I like open sights, as you might guess. They are all I use and have ever used, and the factory supplied rear peep sight and neon yellow front sight work very well for me, especially at the fairly close distances I intend to hunt at with this gun. The sights are light years better than the Henry 45-70 I hunted with last year. That Henry had a cheap and flimsy rear sight that would constantly readjust itself out of true, which is downright dangerous in the grizzly country I was in. And yes, I was constantly surrounded by grizzlies, and so I kept checking and fidgeting with the Henry’s flimsy rear sight. This Marlin’s rear peep sight is more rugged, but it really sticks out and so it is vulnerable to catching on things and hard hits. It could use some sort of protective arch or band, which given how ugly the Picatinny rail already is, I don’t see how such a protective piece of steel could hurt the gun’s looks any more.

Built for Speed and Comfort

The SBL is fast shooting, and despite lobbing huge hunks of ballistic lead downrange, it is also comfortable to shoot. Probably due to its weight and the purposefully big and soft butt pad, I did not notice any real hard kick from this gun. But then again I am a very large framed guy with not only a lot of muscle but also a generous helping of blubber, which is like a giant shock absorber. Consider that I also shoot a .577 NE comfortably, so don’t be looking for reports of “the 45-70 kicks like a mule” here on this blog. I find it quite pleasant at the range and also hunting.

The 45-70 is No 50-110, OK?

Due to the SBL becoming so popular, much has been made about the 45-70 as some sort of atomic cartridge. Well, it’s not. The 45-70 certainly is no 50-110, which with modern smokeless powders really is a powerful stomper, and it is no .50 Alaskan, either. The 45-70 Government cartridge is not a “Jurassic” dinosaur killer, and in most ways it doesn’t come close to “boring” 30-06 performance.

For God’s sake and Goodness Gracious, it is not anywhere close to something so powerful. Yes, this 1870s black powder case is big compared to the modern bottle-necked cases we hunters mostly use today, and it has a lot of room for powder. And yes, it holds large bullets that are double or even triple the size of the typical 120-180 grain bullets we typically use for big game these days.

But way too many, if not almost all, the online video reviews of the 45-70 cartridge and this 1895 SBL rifle are done by young men wearing cool guy sunglasses and tight short sleeved shirts that showcase their pumped up biceps, bragging up how monstrously “powerful” this “howitzer” cartridge supposedly is (accompanied by the inevitable macho heavy crunching rock guitar musak). The implication being that they are powerful and macho as heck, and you can be, too, if you just own this rifle.

So powerful, so awesome, so macho. Barf, puke. No.

Wrong, guys. Holy smokes, people, calm down. Put down the new toy and get a grip on reality.  Stop and back up to the technical reality that simple science imposes on this 45-70 cartridge and on every other cartridge, for that matter. Put away the emotional nonsense, the ego, the lame desire to be seen as cool, or tough, or macho. The 45-70 is not that powerful, nor is it macho. Owning a lever action 45-70 won’t make you cool or make your you-know-what bigger.

We Americans do like our big trucks, big engines, big homes, big landscapes, and big bore firearms, no doubt. And I am all for all of that. But the 45-70 is just nowhere near what so many people promote it as, some kind of crushingly, overwhelmingly powerful “Jurassic dinosaur killer.” Even its modern loadings in the updated Speer and Hornady manuals pale in comparison to the apparently boring old .30-06 and even the .308. And 45-70 brass is prohibitively expensive, not to mention the high cost of better factory loads, which are somewhere about two fifty per round.

In short, an American deer and black bear hunter can get much better performance and value with any off-the-shelf 30-caliber rifle than with the 45-70. The 45-70 requires an awful lot of tweaking and handloading to get it into the realm of impressive. And even at its most impressive, it is still overshadowed by the boring old .30-06 for general duty. And the .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, and proprietary Marlin rounds like the .338, too, for that matter.

Sorry to all the macho strutting young bucks on YouTube, but your new toy is not that big or impressive! Please don’t cry!

Where the 45-70 shines these days is with just a few modern smokeless powders married to just a couple really modern solid bullets, in a fast handling, fast shooting, high quality lever gun like this 1895 SBL, at relatively close range, for fast follow-up shots on tougher-than-average critters that can stomp and eat you if they get too close.

That’s it.

That little description above is the narrow application for the 45-70 cartridge that is superior to most other sporting cartridges. Put a big, heavy 50-caliber hunting round in a Winchester Model 71 lever action, or in a Winchester 1886 lever action, and the 45-70 again falls into a far distant second choice for big and dangerous game.

But neither the old Model 71 nor the Model 1886 are made in stainless steel by one of the best gun makers.

And this reason above is why I have selected the 1895 SBL in 45-70 to be my new bear hunting rifle in Alaska and for bear drives in Pennsylvania: It is rugged, fast shooting, and potentially very hard hitting at close range with solid bullets.

If I am sitting on a hillside calling to black bears, which might require a 100-150 yard shot, then I will use a longer range bolt gun or double rifle with a flatter trajectory. One guy I know of has used the 1895 SBL for big game in Africa, but again, using a very narrowly designed combination of powder and high tech solid bullet at short range (see below).

If I were simply hunting black bears in open country, at ranges up to 200 yards, with occasional grizzlies around, like southern Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, the 1895 SBL would not be my choice. Not even in my top five choices. Rather, a more powerful rifle with a flatter trajectory would be my first choice, such as a .300-.338-.375 magnum bolt action. If I were hunting black bear way down the southern Alaskan coast, like on the islands from Juneau south, where brown bears (grizzlies) are far fewer and black bears are much more numerous, then I would take a .308 or .30-06 and dispense with the need to cover myself in case of short range ambush charges from the really dangerous bears in heavy Alaskan jungle cover.

Summed up perfectly by a federal wildlife employee who hunts big game and also dangerous game with the 1895 SBL in Alaska and Africa, who goes by the online name Tundra Tiger, “It is true: [the 45-70 Govt.] comes with a shorter effective range than some other calibers. However, if one chooses to recognize its limitations and work within them, I don’t see what the issue is [with hunting dangerous game with it].” He has taken some dangerous game in Africa with his Marlin lever action 45-70 using just one bullet, the Cutting Edge Bullets 325-grain solid brass bullet (https://cuttingedgebullets.com/458-325gr-lever-gun-safari-solid).

In Closing

I am sure that plenty of people can and will find a way to make the 1895 SBL in 45-70 round their home defense gun, their everyday big game hunting round, whatever, and that is fine. Why not, it’s a gun, which is better than nothing for self defense. It is far better than a baseball bat, which like all striking or stabbing weapons requires you to close with your opponent. And it is far better than calling 9-1-1 and waiting for your spirit to watch the EMTs zipping up your corpse in a body bag while the police show up to write a report about the crime scene. Lever actions are fast, and being mechanical, they are reliable and theoretically less susceptible to jamming problems than semi-autos, which are notorious for jams.

And lever actions have always made good hunting guns.

For most of my big game hunting, I prefer old guns shooting black powder at relatively close range that pack the same punch as the modern 45-70, or more, or more modern but still old centerfire guns of blued steel and aged walnut shooting modern bullets at woods range, in calibers like the 7x57R, 243, 308, 270, and 30-06. Like within 100 yards, without all of the unnecessary hard work trying to figure out how to make my short barreled lever action firing huge hunks of 45-caliber lead and brass with rainbow-shaped trajectories into performing like a flat shooting bolt action in a caliber nearly half the size of the 45-70.

AGAIN, this gun was purchased for just three reasons: 1) It is constructed of the most weather-resistant, durable materials possible in a firearm, stainless steel and high tech epoxy laminated wood, 2) the lever action is extremely fast, much faster than a bolt action and even than a pump action, and finally, 3) when properly loaded with the proper high-penetration solid bullets propelled by generous and safe amounts of powders like R7 and IMR4198, this modern 45-70 lever action provides the best combination of a practical stalking rifle for black bear in Alaska with a practical emergency short range defense weapon against grizzlies.

Loaded hot with the proper (heavy high quality solids going 2,000-2,100 fps) bullet, the 45-70 does its best better than most calibers within 50 yards. Only a short-barreled 12-gauge pump shotgun accurately shooting high tech heavy slugs is a superior, equally reliable defensive long arm than the properly loaded 45-70 lever action. But I would not take that same 12 gauge short barreled shotgun bear hunting, because it is really limited in range, even more limited than the 45-70.

AGAIN, I bought this gun only for a) hunting in Alaska, which is brutal on firearms, and, thus, where a stainless steel gun will do best, and b) for bear drives in northcentral Pennsylvania, where fastest-possible shooting (i.e. lever action) at short ranges in thick laurel are the norm. Our PA bear drives are brutal on guns, boots, clothing, and every other piece of gear you have. One of my friends broke his brand new Remington 7600 pump action 30-06 stock in half on one of our bear drives. Alaska is also known for eating firearms alive, especially the southeastern coastal strip, where endless rain and salt air will corrode and rust blued metal, and mildew and rot traditional walnut stock wood, in just a few days. So the Marlin 1895 SBL really fits the bill in these two tough hunting environments.

I am presently testing my own hand loads using 16:1 and 20:1 alloy cast bullets and the Cutting Edge Bullets 325 grain solid brass bullet at 1950-2100 fps. Field reports from Alaska to Africa indicate that this CEB load in the 1895 SBL is more than adequate for both hunting black bears and also for defending against attacking brown bears at powder-burn range (and yes, grizzly attacks happen frequently).

Readers interested in understanding how modern (i.e. last ten to fifteen years) bullet technology in an 1870s cartridge like the 45-70 creates a lot more flexibility and dangerous game ability (i.e. grizzly/ brown bears in Alaska) should read the following online discussion threads:

https://www.africahunting.com/threads/45-70-for-dangerous-game.6852/

https://www.marlinowners.com/threads/african-lion-bullet-suggestions.661932/?post_id=8826110&nested_view=1#post-8826110

And for those hunters and bystanders interested in what a properly loaded 45-70 lever action rifle can achieve against dangerous game, Vince Lupo’s reports about his African safaris are amazing: https://www.leverguns.com/articles/lupo/lupo.htm

p.s. Men and Their Personal Weapons

Men have always cherished certain weapons. A boar spear that saved your life once, a sword that swings just perfectly in battle, a custom hunting knife made specially for us and used to gut and butcher our hunted game many times, or a well-made trusty poniard on the hip in case of trouble while at market. For thousands of years we men clutch these things close, reflexively place our hand upon them when at rest, and stare at them lovingly from across the room, because they reliably work for us daily and we can always rely on them in a tight spot. And because these weapons speak to us, us men, through their beauty, and because very often they speak for us, they come to represent us. To stand for us. We identify ourselves through them.

And so I say, you men on YouTube and elsewhere are in really good company, in your admiration for the stainless steel and laminate Marlin lever actions, like this 1895 SBL. Their robust build, certain mechanical reliability, and extremely durable materials are all big draws in a world of semiauto jams and broken parts and surprise rust at just the wrong moment. This gun is the equivalent of a good heavy steel-tipped spear a thousand years ago, and it just feels right, hefts right, in our hand.

Deer I stalked and shot at 151 yards this week with the Marlin 1895 SBL. The 325-grain FTX bullet passed through lungs and stomach without slowing. Custom knife by JRJ John Johnson.

Beautiful Central PA landscape in winter

Winter sunset over the Susquehanna River

Exhibit A in macho gun reviews. Joe Cool shades in the shade. Biceps. Etc. Unfortunately, this rifle will not make his or your you-know-what bigger.

A 45-70 dangerous game round I loaded, using the 325-grain solid brass bullet by Cutting Edge Bullets. This is for stopping a grizzly

Welp…there is always the late deer season

The 2023 deer hunting season is probably going to be remembered in most parts of Pennsylvania as a strange time. For reasons already written about here previously, the deer just have not been available to the hunters in ways and numbers that hunters are accustomed to. On properties I hunt all over Central PA, deer were either invisible or invested with magical disappearing powers. Everywhere I am familiar with, the deer moved up hill, as far away from human activity as possible.

To say many hunters are frustrated is a big understatement.

All I can say to all this bad luck is that at least we have the upcoming late flintlock and archery seasons to try to make up for the low productivity of our regular season. And in at least one area designed to reduce Chronic Wasting Disease, DMAP 6396, we have a continuation of rifle season for antlerless deer only until late January. I intend to take a new rifle afield for that season in that area.

Folks, for the next ten days, practice, practice, practice with your flintlocks. My biggest challenge with flintlock hunting is the huge flash going off in my eyes. Once I get used to that, I am deadly steady with the old smoke pole. Probably takes me ten to twenty flashes to begin staying stone cold steady.

Late last year after a bunch of really lame close-range misses, I began practicing shooting my flintlock rifle with only priming powder in the pan, and nothing loaded in the barrel. Repeated trigger pulls with explosive flashes in my face helped me overcome my natural reaction of flinching and pulling my head back and away from the flame. Needs no explanation that moving your head off the gunstock is going to ruin your accuracy and aim, which means you probably won’t hit what you thought your gun was aimed at.

Ah yes, the well-earned moniker “flinchlock…”

Couple of recommendations: Go high up, because that is where most of the deer are, and try to hunt in groups, either as actual drives or as organized approaches to hunting the same area together.

Remember to go afield with a brand new sharp flint on your gun. If you take the old, dull flint that you have been practicing with this year, you stand a good chance of hearing “klunk” when you pull the trigger as the rounded flint then hits the frizzen without any sparks, and thus yields no primer ignition, and thus there is no ka-boom coming out the end of your gun barrel.

Though quite often the deer will be fascinated by the weird klunk sound, staying riveted in their spot staring intently in the direction of that odd sound. You might get a second or even a third trigger pull during this stare-down period.

Good luck, folks! Shoot straight and walk tall.

 

Ok so how is your deer season going?

You wait all year for these two weeks of rifle season in PA, and then after a restless night the opening morning arrives. Five days in, and hardly a shot heard each day, no deer seen, hardly any sign encountered, and you are wondering what the heck is going on.

Don’t sweat it, you are not alone. You are in very good company. A lot of Pennsylvania hunters are grousing to each other tonight about not seeing any let alone many deer so far, not getting shots at deer, not even finding sign of deer, like poop or tree rubs. Not even hearing shots. Apparently Wisconsin is also seeing a real drop in their deer harvest in firearms season, too.

Something is amiss, especially in the Big Woods, no question.

Are we witnessing some mass die-off from disease, like Chronic Wasting Disease, or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease? It is possible, but I have not yet seen any deer skeletons lying randomly in the woods. Maybe they are out there and I just haven’t found the graveyard yet. In 2005 northcentral PA had a huge deer die-off from late season snow and ice that made the mountains impassible. The deer could neither walk on the surface for weeks, nor could they dig through the compacted ice and snow to reach food. We did encounter random deer carcasses everywhere during the spring that year.

Maybe black bears ate more deer fawns than we anticipated (I witnessed a large black bear catching, killing, and eating a young deer this May, which is cool). Same can be surmised for coyotes, which are renowned deer eaters. After several years of purposefully hard harvests, there are now fewer bears in PA, by design, and theoretically less bear depredation of fawns in 2023. But there does seem to be an awful lot of coyotes. Everywhere.

Up north, we have no acorns to speak of. Late spring frosts killed our acorn flowers a couple years in a row, and gypsy moths have been terrible year after year. Any acorn flowers that survived spring frosts were eaten by the gypsy moths, whose egg masses are visible everywhere up here. So there is very little to no food in the Big Woods, and as a result, most wild animals seem to have flown the coop. Bear hunting last week was impossible. And so far this week, deer hunting has been tough.

Yesterday I was fortunate to set up in a natural funnel and catch two does transitioning from feeding areas to bedding areas. And today, with the help of friends on a small and carefully targeted drive, I filled my buck tag. Based on what I am hearing, I am incredibly lucky this year. Most hunters are struggling just to see deer tails bouncing off into the distance.

So if you are one of the PA hunters who is feeling dispirited right now about the apparent evaporation of deer this season, here is my best advice: Go hunt places you don’t normally hunt, and where you think others probably don’t hunt often, either. Steep hillsides are great locations for hiding deer. Play the wind, keeping it in your face as much as possible. Go slow, and quiet. And have a friend or two join you for a two-man push or leap-frog, or a two-man push with one stander. And then the stander becomes a pusher and the former pushers take up stands.

Remember that whitetails like to loop around behind their pursuers. If one guy is pushing and another guy is quietly lagging behind a hundred yards or more, he has a good chance of getting the deer that snuck off and went around the pusher. Again, make sure the wind is in your favor (blowing from the deer to you, not from you to the deer), and be as quiet as possible.

Switch up your game this season, because it seems that just sitting and waiting for animals to come out and present themselves broadside is not happening a whole lot in 2023. We gotta get in after them, and make our own action.

Good luck!

PA’s 2023 bear season

After hearing just one rifle shot all day (followed by the customary follow-up shot thirty seconds later, and the coup-de-grace shot a minute later) today, at 4:20PM, I felt compelled to write about what seems to be happening this bear season. In a nutshell, this is not your pap’s or even your dad’s Pennsylvania bear season in Northcentral PA. That long-hallowed experience of buffalo plaid Woolrich coats and moldy little hunting camps built in 1948 filled with men putting on big drives across the landscape, is now a thing of the past.

Some people blame the Saturday bear season opener that started eight years ago for the demise. Others blame the early October muzzleloader and archery seasons. Either way, what many hunters are calling the death of the famed PA bear season is actually a direct result of the incredible success of PA’s decades-long bear population conservation program.

When PGC biologist Gary Alt became the steward of the PA bear program in the early 1980s, he faced a problem. Hunters, nature lovers, and simple habitat and ecosystem health required more bears across Pennsylvania. And bears were not responding to the demand. In twenty years of hard and smart work, Dr. Alt turned the situation completely around. When Dr. Alt left the PGC twenty years ago, his life’s work was one of the great wildlife conservation success stories in America. Black bears then filled habitat niches in almost every county from Philadelphia to Erie, from Honesdale to Pittsburgh, and everywhere in between.

And then, almost overnight it seemed, PA had way too many bears. Bears were showing up in cities proper, turning over trash cans in suburban back yards everywhere. And so the PGC had to try and dial back some of Dr. Alt’s success. Increasing the number of bears taken by hunters was the solution.

Now looking at harvest data resulting from a half dozen years of early muzzleloader bear season, early archery season, regular bear season, and extended bear seasons running concurrent with deer season, it is easy to see why we only heard one rifle shot all day today in what probably still is the epicenter of PA’s bear hunting. And why none of our guys encountered any bears hanging from hunting camp porches on their valley run tonight.

Early muzzleloader and archery seasons combined now account for almost half of the overall annual PA bear harvest, even before “bear season” has begun. These early season hunters are mostly single men hunting near their homes. By the time the traditional bear season arrives in late November, half the licensed bear hunters who are likely to kill a bear are already tagged out, and the rest are looking forward to the concurrent bear-deer seasons in their home hunting territories. Few hunters feel compelled to make the historic annual migration north, and why would they?

Those of us, we hardy few, who do still come to the traditional bear hunting ground up north, are faced with an already depleted bear resource, and many fewer men pushing across the landscape to break free and push those bears that remain. And yet, despite our reduced opportunity, we enjoy the crisp Fall air, the camaraderie, the laughs, and the naughty food and drink our wives would never approve of, if they only knew.

Good luck this season, boys. You’re gonna need it.