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November 9, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Bag A Buck, Save The Economy

It's not a secret that our economy is going through a bit of a rough patch, and no surprise that there are countless theories for how to get the train back on the tracks. Windmills? Solar panels? Electric cars? Chuck Norris? Everyone seems to have an opinion on the topic, but if a recent National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) study is any indication, economic recovery may be as close as the 6 point buck at the end of your hunting rifle.

If you're unfamiliar with blue laws, they were initially adopted during the colonial period to support the idea of Sunday being a day of worship and rest. The specifics of the law will vary in each area, but will generally restrict certain types of trade, commerce and activities on Sunday. As luck would have it, I've yet to live in a state where blue laws have prohibited my wife from asking me to clean the garage on the weekend. While some places still enforce blue laws due to religious principles, most areas continue to keep them on the books out of tradition.

In the 1970's 25 states maintained blue laws in one flavor or another, and by the 1980's that number dropped to 13. Today there are 11 states (CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NC, SC, PA, VA, WV) where blue laws prohibit or restrict folks from hunting on Sundays, but if they were aware of the economic ramifications of their decision these state legislatures might reconsider.

NSSF recently completed a "Sunday Hunting Economic Impact" study that projected the economic benefits that these 11 states would enjoy if they lifted their Sunday ban on hunting. The study looked at the following influences that hunting can have on local economies…

Direct Impact
Hunter purchases such as licenses, ammunition, fuel & beef jerky.

Supplier Impact
Secondary goods & services that may support a hunter's activities such as steel, wood, banking and mechanics.
 
Induced Impact
When local business owners and employees take the money they've generated from hunters and purchase shoes, cars & beef jerky.
 
Based on NSSF's estimates, if the blue laws were repealed over 27,000 new jobs would be created within these 11 states, contributing to $730M in earned wages and a whopping $2.2B in additional economic activity, with the biggest percentage coming from direct hunter purchases (16,790 jobs, $339M wages and $868M additional economic output).
 
Considering that we've been quick to roll the dice on expensive, questionable stimulus plans these days, I don't see the risk in these states removing an outdated law that would inject some money into their local economies, while allowing folks to enjoy a few more hunting days during the season.
 
- Mark Blanchard
1 person likes



November 2, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Whale Mucus & Feral Hogs

Against my better judgment, my family made a 90 minute pilgrimage this summer from Austin to San Antonio to visit Sea World. I like to have fun just as much as the next guy, but it was difficult to get enthusiastic about a day of blistering heat, armpit-to-armpit crowds and profuse sweating. By the end of the day our excursion set me back $200, and in return I was treated to a 2nd degree sunburn, a mucus shower… courtesy of Shamu's blowhole… and a departing image of a 70 year old man losing his bathing suit in the wave pool. I guess what I'm trying to say, is that there are better ways to spend $200 in Texas, particularly when those activities involve beer, bbq and feral hog hunting (not necessarily in that order).

Feral hogs are domestic hogs that either escaped or were released for hunting purposes. With each passing generation a hog will lose its domestic characteristics and develop a variety of traits to survive in the wild. In Central, South and East Texas feral hogs breed as frequently as they breathe, and their amorous rendezvous have led to a population explosion that exceeds 1.5 million by most estimates.
 
A mature feral hog will typically weigh between 100-400 pounds, carry very little fat, and will reach a shoulder height of about 36". Their body is covered with coarse brown or black hair, they have 4 tusks that grow continuously, and their acute sense of hearing and smell help compensate for their Mr. Magoo eyesight. Feral hogs are also very quick and highly intelligent, so they pose some interesting challenges from a hunting standpoint.
 
Given their excessive numbers, feral hogs are classified as unprotected, non-game animals in Texas. While there are no seasons or bag limits, a hunting license is required in most situations (Texas Resident / $25, Non-Resident 5 Day / $32). The one exception involves feral hogs that are causing damage to a property owner's land. In this scenario, landowners or lessees are not required to have a license when hunting for feral hogs.
 
If you're not lucky enough to have a friend in Texas who's property has been overrun by feral hogs, there are a variety of ranches that sell packaged hog hunts that will vary in cost. Packages usually require a minimum of 2-3 hunters, and costs can run as low as $125 per hunter for a day hunt if you're doing your own field dressing and don't require overnight accommodations. This fee will typically allow for a 100-150 lbs hog, and for every pound over that limit you'll pay anywhere from $1 to $1.50 per pound.
 
- Mark Blanchard



October 27, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Does That Come In Camouflage?

I'm not questioning the need for camouflage. The flounder relies on it to avoid becoming a McFish sandwich for sharks, and there are obviously important military and hunting applications, but does this justify it's use on every conceivable surface? In addition to having a name that defies pronunciation, Lucien Victor Guirand de Scévola is also recognized as one of the inventors of military camouflage. If Lucien Victor Guir… let's call him Lou… we're alive today, he'd probably be a bit confused by some of the creative applications of his invention.

Camouflage Cutting Board
Nothing says a trip to the ER like a cutting board that camouflages your food and fingers from a flailing 12" Ginsu knife. Unless your health insurance provides an attractive deductible and copay arrangement, you may be better off limiting your camouflage purchase to a hunting jacket.
 
Camouflage Toilet Seat
While the attention to detail on this kester depressor is impressive, unless you plan on ambushing a deer in your bathroom, I'm having trouble seeing the usefulness of camouflage in this application. Additionally, any product that potentially delays the locating and use of a commode in the middle of the night, is just an accident waiting to happen.
 
Camouflage Pens
If there's one thing I misplace more frequently than my car keys, it's pens. More often than not I'll be on the phone, yelling for a pen so that I can scribble down an important piece of information, at which point my wife reminds me that she's not a Bic distributor and I should have planned ahead before making my call. If this scenario is unique to my household, so be it, the last thing I need to deal with are pens that are more difficult to find.
 
I'm not the best resource for fashion tips. I frequently accessorize t-shirts with mustard stains, and consider jeans and work boots to be appropriate formal attire, yet even I can see the potential hazards of marrying camouflage and wedding dresses. The first kiss as husband and wife could take hours to complete (further extending an already boring wedding ceremony), not to mention the possibility of you accidentally running over your invisible bride on the way to the reception.
 
Camouflage Lingerie
While there may not be a valid reason for camouflage lingerie, it sure as heck is a lot more enjoyable to look at than a cutting board or toilet seat, and I think Lou would concur.
 
- Mark Blanchard



October 19, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Sighting In On Prescription Shooting Glasses

Last week I discussed the importance of recreational shooters using protective eyewear. We only get one set of eyeballs, so it's worthwhile to invest in a pair of quality shooting glasses to safeguard your vision from ejected shells, chamber blow back and natural elements such as the wind, dust and sun.

While I did not touch on the subject in my previous article, the need for protective eyewear also extends to shooters who wear eyeglasses. According to the Vision Council of America, 75% of adults use some sort of vision correction, whether it be eyeglasses (64%) or contact lenses (11%). Given those percentages there's a good chance that either yourself or someone you know has encountered some frustration when trying to shop for adequate eye protection. Hopefully the following information will help to minimize some of the mystery and stress involved with that process.

A Quick Word On Contact Lenses
Folks are divided on the issue of contact lenses and shooting. On the positive side they can be inexpensively coupled with non-prescription protective glasses and offer a sharp field of vision. For those who have a problem with contact lenses a common complaint is that dryness, dirt & lens shift negatively impacts their shooting. If you're in the 11% of the population that wears contact lenses, you can refer to my last article and shop for a pair of non-prescription shooting glasses. If you're in the 64% that wears eyeglasses, there are few items below worth your consideration.

Choice Of Materials
At a minimum, shooting glasses need to be shatter proof. In addition to being heavy & cumbersome, glass lenses have the potential to shatter and as a result won't provide the best eye protection. In place of glass, you'll find 3 materials that are frequently used in a prescription shooting lens; CR 39, polycarbonate & Trivex. CR 39 is inexpensive, lightweight, resistant to solvents, offers good optical clarity, but has the weakest impact resistance of the three materials. Polycarbonate is more expensive than CR 39 and lacks some of its optical benefits, but is 10x more impact resistant and offers 99% UV ray protection. Trivex matches the impact resistance and UV protection of polycarbonate, but is optically superior to both polycarbonate and CR 39. Because it is a relatively new material (introduced in 2001), Trivex is not as readily available as the other materials and is the most expensive of the three.
 
Lens Color
Once you've settled on a lens material, you'll have several color options to choose from. This selection process will typically be dictated by shooting location and lighting. Gray lenses do not alter the true color of your surroundings and offer good protection against sunlight & glare when shooting outdoors. Yellow or amber lenses help reduce blue light, and improve vision sharpness in low light settings. Transition lenses are another option to consider because they'll automatically adapt to lighting conditions. As an example, a transition lens will be clear when shooting in a low light indoor range, but the lens will darken when shooting outdoors in the sunlight.
 
Pricing & Availability
The downside with prescription shooting glasses is that they have to be custom made by an optometrist. This usually involves an investment of $150-$400 depending on the optometrist and the material they use. The process is also labor intensive due to the impact resistant nature of the lens material, so it can often take 3-4 weeks for shooting glasses to be produced. While this commitment of time and money can seem extreme, it will most likely be a one time investment that will allow you to safely enjoy your recreational shooting pursuits for years to come.
 
- Mark Blanchard



October 12, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Having An Eye For Shooting Eyewear

A recent survey from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) found that 95% of sporting rifle owners have actively shot a firearm in the past 12 month. Almost 40% of those folks spent $1,083 on their last firearm purchase and 84% spent an average of $436 on an aftermarket rifle accessory. We invest a lot of time and money in our passion, but it's not uncommon to overlook a $10 accessory that allows us to safely enjoy our recreational shooting interests.

Whether it's a trip to the range or a day in the field, no shooting activity would be complete without proper eye protection. In addition to safe guarding your eyes from environmental factors (wind, dust, sun) shooting glasses also provide protection from shooting debris such as ejected shells and chamber blow back. Shooting glasses incorporate several design features that make them a safer alternative to standard sunglasses.

Lens Material
Protective lenses are typically made from a thermoplastic known as polycarbonate, which has been used in everything from astronaut helmet visors to bullet resistant automobile glass. In addition to being more scratch and impact resistant than other plastics, polycarbonate lenses are lighter and filter as much as 99% of the ultraviolet rays that may be encountered outdoors. Lower end products may use inferior plastic compounds that are promoted as "impact resistant", but will not offer the features and protection of a polycarbonate lens.

Impact Rating
Given the application, this is the most important consideration when shopping for a pair of quality shooting glasses. While other factors come into play, they're all inconsequential a pair of glasses doesn't provide adequate eye protection. Eyewear should be certified for impact protection, and there are three standards that are commonly applied in the United States… OSHA (Standard – 1910.133 a-2), ANSI (Standard – Z87.1 & Z87.3) and the U.S. Military (Standard – MIL-V-43511C). The U.S. Military standard is probably the most applicable to shooting protection, and utilizes a rigorous test process that incorporates a .22 caliber ballistics impact test. When shopping for shooting glasses I'd suggest eyewear that satisfies ANSI standards at a minimum, but the safest choice would be eyewear that comes with both an ANSI & U.S. Military certification.
 
UV Protection & Lens Color
Ultraviolet radiation (UV) refers to light waves produced by the sun, and prolonged exposure to certain types of UV rays can cause eye damage. As I mentioned above, polycarbonate material has inherent filtering capabilities, so if you purchase shooting glasses with polycarbonate lenses they'll effectively block (99%) or absorb (400nm) dangerous UV rays.
 
Selection of lens color usually comes down to personal preference and comfort. While there aren't any hard rules to follow, some colors tend to work better than others in certain settings. Clear or light gray tints do not alter color and can help minimize bright sunlight. Amber tints can improve depth perception and contrast, which may be helpful when shooting in overcast conditions. Yellow or orange tints also improve contrast and are helpful in low-light situations. Mirrored or polarized lenses can contribute to reflections and light loss, and for those reasons are not the best choice when shopping for shooting glasses.
 
Fit & Style
For comfort and safety purposes, glasses should fit without restricting blood flow to the brain. Aside from being a nuisance, loose fitting glasses are a safety hazard if they become a persistent distraction or fall out of place in the course of shooting a firearm. Glasses come in a variety of materials (aluminum & plastic), styles (standard to wrap-around) and will often include adjustable nose and ear components to customize their fit.
 
Anticipated Cost
Depending upon personal preferences and application, the cost for shooting glasses can range from $10 to +$140. Generally speaking a quality pair of ANSI certified glasses can be purchased for as little as $10, while glasses with both ANSI and U.S. Military certifications can be found for under $40.
 
- Mark Blanchard



October 5, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Keeping The Tradition Alive

If one activity has highlighted my Dad's patience, it would have to be his commitment to teaching my two brothers and me proper firearm safety and shooting. Unless a hot fudge sundae or video game is involved, it can be a challenge getting 3 energetic kids to sit still for anything, but our Dad did a great job of creating a learning environment that was safe, interactive and interesting.

To ensure that traditions remain intact, it's important for adults to mentor young people and introduce them to the enjoyment and responsibilities associated with shooting. Thanks to my Dad, my first impression of firearms was a positive one, and I'm looking forward to sharing a similar experience and tradition with my daughter.

With that in mind I thought I'd bring attention to a few youth shooting programs that can help supplement the mentoring process, as well as provide a safe and fun outlet for a child's shooting interests. I've tried to focus on national programs that would be accessible to folks throughout the country, but if I've overlooked any programs that RealGuns' readers have found useful, please let me know!

National 4-H Shooting Sports
4-H's Shooting Sports clubs are open to all youth ages 8-18, and are typically operated through sportsmen's clubs, community ranges, and privately owned facilities. In addition to teaching firearm safety and marksmanship, certified instructors introduce a variety of disciplines including pistol, rifle, shotgun, archery and hunting. If 4-H members have an interest, there are also opportunities to test their shooting skills at regional, state and national competitions

Boy Scouts of America
BSA offers shooting programs that are designed to emphasize safety, discipline, sportsmanship and marksmanship under the direction of NRA certified instructors, using nationally approved instructional methods. Similar to the 4-H program, Scouts are introduced to pistols, shotguns, muzzleloaders & rifles.

American Legion Junior Shooting Sports Program
This three part program offered through the American Legion combines gun safety education, marksmanship and competitive shooting using a .177 caliber air rifle. Participants can be male or female, 18 years of age or younger, and the program makes an extra effort to encourage handicapped youth participation. For program graduates who have a continued interest in improving their skills, the American Legion offers air rifle qualification courses provided through the NRA, as well as state and national competitions.

National Rifle Association
In addition to supporting cooperative youth programs throughout the country (Boy Scouts, American Legion, JROTC, 4-H, etc.) the NRA also manages several programs of their own that promote firearm safety and shooting skills. NRA Day events for example, give kids and families an opportunity to learn about shooting sports from certified instructors in a controlled environment. Similarly, their Youth Hunter Education Challenge is a comprehensive youth hunting program that covers everything from wildlife identification, map-and-compass orienteering, to training & testing within 8 unique skills areas.

AIM
This program is maintained by the Amateur Trapshooting Association, and provides a nurturing environment where youth through college age shooters can learn about firearms while participating in team and individual trapshooting competitions. In addition to teaching firearm safety and good sportsmanship, AIM also promotes the importance of academics, values and community responsibility.

- Mark Blanchard




September 28, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Ear Protection: Don’t Leave Home Without It

Our ears come in contact with undesirable noises every day. A neighbor's Labrador howling at 3am, windshield rattling rap music at a traffic light, or perhaps a chattering telemarketer disrupting your dinner to solicit accidental death insurance.

Most noises are usually just an annoyance, but prolonged exposure to other types of sound can contribute to hearing loss if your ears aren't properly protected. Appropriate ear protection is a must for any sport shooter, but in our haste and excitement to get to the gun range on a Saturday afternoon, it's often an afterthought.

The general consensus among physicians is that repetitive exposure to noise in the 85-90 decibel (dB) range can begin to harm hearing. Since gun shots register between 140-150 dB on average, you'll need to find suitable ear protection to reduce those dB's to a safe level.

Protective gear will have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) that denotes the maximum sound reduction capacity of a protective device. As an example, an ear plug with a NRR of 25 dB will provide more protection than an ear plug with a NRR of 20 dB. The highest NRR you'll typically find is 33, and protective products with a 28-31 NRR are usually recommended for indoor ranges where the sound of gun fire is contained and will be louder than what you'd experience at an outdoor range.

There are generally three types of ear protection devices for sport shooters to consider… ear plugs, ear muffs and electronic ear muffs. Each option will vary in respect to their cost and the level of protection they provide.

Ear Plugs ($5 – $15 / 12dB – 33dB) - Made from foam or latex, ear plugs are inserted into the ear opening and are some times referred to as a "passive" protective device because they do not use electronics to dampen sound. Plugs come in several styles (single use, multiple use, corded), they're inexpensive, but they provide the least protection of the three options I've noted .

Ear Muffs ($15 – $40 / 22dB – 33dB) - Muffs provide cups that enclose the entire ear, and the cups are attached by a plastic or metal headband. Similar to ear plugs, this style of ear muff does not incorporate electronics and would be considered a passive protective device. The cups should fit snuggly and seal the entire ear, so it's important to shop around until you find a pair that fits comfortably and properly. Unlike plugs, which only fill the ear canal, ear muffs cover the entire ear and ultimately offer better protection.
 
Electronic Ear Muffs ($40 – $320 / 22dB – 33dB) - With this option you essentially have a pair of ear muffs with an electronic technology that automatically reduces the level of harmful sounds. The big benefit of electronic ear muffs is that they dampen dangerous noise like a gun shot, without suppressing important sounds like a range master or a trainer providing instructions at a shooting facility. Unfortunately this technology doesn't come cheap, and will be the most expensive of the three protective options.
 
In closing, if I had to offer any recommendations, I would consider a pair of passive ear muffs for outdoor range shooting, and doubling up (ear plugs & ear muffs) if you're shooting in a louder indoor environment. If you're one of the lucky few that manages to get to the range on a frequent basis, the electronic ear muffs might be worth the initial investment.
 
- Mark Blanchard
2 people like



September 21, 2011

Mark’s Blog – Long Term Ammunition Storage

Our favorite wholesale supermarket occasionally offers a big sale on paper towels that inevitably concludes with my wife strapping a palette of Bounty to our SUV. While I understand the practical aspects of stocking up on a useful item, finding appropriate storage space can be a challenge, which in a roundabout way brings me to the topic of ammunition.

Over the past few years the cost and supply of ammunition has experienced some fluctuations. As a result it's not uncommon to see folks stocking up on their favorite ammo whenever it becomes available at a desirable price. Since the ammunition won't be used immediately, some thought has to be given to its long term storage.

Ammunition can have an extended shelf life of 100 years or more, providing that it is not exposed to moisture, oxygen or temperature extremes that can damage casings, gunpowder and primers. These factors can be minimized by purchasing military ammunition cans, which include an air and water tight neoprene seal. Purchasing used cans through a surplus or online outlet can reduce costs, but the containers should be inspected for corrosion and dents to ensure that they're leak free.

Once the ammunition has been packed, place some desiccant packets and oxygen absorbers in the container, and quickly seal the can. The desiccant will protect the ammo from humidity, and the oxygen absorbers will help to prevent oxidation. If you're like me and you struggle to remember the location of your car keys most mornings, note a description of the ammo on the outside of the can with a Sharpie marker.

Last but not least, the ammunition cans need to be placed in an appropriate storage area, and most recommendations point to a dark, dry and cool (50-80 degrees) location. As an example, basements offer an ideal environment for storage, providing that you have one and it's not susceptible to flooding.

If any RealGuns readers out there have had success with alternative storage arrangements… vacuum sealed bags, unused paint cans, etc… I'd love to hear about your experiences.

- Mark Blanchard

1 person likes



September 17, 2011

Mark – Vacation Travel with Firearms

Our family will be traveling from Texas to California for the Thanksgiving holiday and I plan on bringing a firearm with me in anticipation of working in a little range time. It’s a good opportunity to meet other firearm enthusiasts and to get some exposure to regional activities and interests. I know a lot of people stress over transporting firearms but, with a little preparation, the process is stress free. 

Compliance with local and state laws– Firearm and ammunition need to comply with destination laws. Call a destination FFL dealer, explain the situation, tell them the type of firearm you anticipate bringing along and ask if it complies. A destination ATF office can provide the same information.

Airline policy – Policy differs, fortunately, firearm and ammunition transport information is readily available on each airline’s web site.  Delta sets a limit of one firearm packed in a locked, hard-sided case. United permits up to 5 firearms in a single case, but limits total weight to 11 lbs, which means someone transporting a scoped rifle is limited to one firearm. Other examples- Alaskan Air, ContinentalJet Blue, Southwest.

Firearm cases– Uniformly, firearms must be transported in a hard-sided case that can be securely locked with a key or combination lock. Strong cases are a good investment as they will do a great job of protecting contents and prices are not prohibitive.  Serviceable handgun cases can be found for as little as $15, rifle cases for as little as $25, especially when found on sale at Wally’s.

Ammunition transport– Ammo must be securely packed in the manufacturer's cardboard box, or a container that is specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition (wood or metal). Ammo can be stored in a clip, but only if the exposed portion of the clip can be securely covered. If more than 11 lbs of ammunition (airline limit) is planned, shipping ammo via UPS or FedEx,  or buying at the destination, might be better alternatives.

Day Of Travel- If you're traveling with a firearm, you'll want to arrive at a the airport at least 2 hours before your flight time. Depending upon who greets you first, you'll want to inform the airline or TSA agent that you're traveling with an unloaded firearm and need a declaration form. At that time, agents will ask for the key or combination for the case so that they can inspect its contents. You'll need to complete the form, and confirm the agent has initialed it, before placing and locking it within your case.

The process is more arduous to explain than to accomplish. Do it once and it will seem easy, and you won’t have to leave those guns at home.

-       Mark Blanchard

2 people like



September 7, 2011

For The Nature Lover Who Has Everything

Treestands, trolling motors, ATV gun racks, scent controlled gloves… if you can imagine it, chances are most online outfitters can deliver it to your doorstep with the click of a mouse button. The variety of merchandise is truly impressive, and while I applaud these businesses for continually offering innovative products, occasionally their competitive spirit gets the best of them and they push envelopes that probably shouldn't have been pushed.

For example, when I'm in the market for a toilet seat or a toilet paper dispenser, I'm not inclined to window shop at Cabela's or Bass Pro Shops. Yet these outdoor outfitters have put the bathroom fixture industry on notice by letting them know that commode accoutrements are no longer the exclusive domain of Bed Bath & Beyond.

Made of durable composite wood construction, these spectacular toilet seats not only provide a comfortable ride but feature the inspirational wildlife art of renowned artists the Hautman Brothers. Folks can chose from a variety of high gloss nature scenes… Moose in Repose, Aloof Elk, Charging Grizzly… though with the latter, I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable with my backside coming between an angry bear and her cubs. That aside, this an ideal gift for the nature lover who has everything but the free time to visit the outdoors or a local art gallery.

If you're going to upgrade your bathroom decor in this fashion, you should go the extra mile and update your chrome plated toilet paper dispenser. Outdoor outfitters offer numerous options, including a sturdy 2' ceramic bear that will faithfully cater to your tp requirements. The bear's "How did I get here?" expression will add whimsy to any bathroom remodel, and will provide a nice design counterpoint to the wildlife toilet seat.

2 people like




 
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