Long shots

| January 03, 2006

Ready for action. A camoed Wayne Hartford with his 7 millimeter Browning Magnum with fiberglass stock and stainless steel barrell. Note the left-handed bolt.

Thumb tacks.

Tiny little spears used for upholstery, tacking canvas to a picture frame or gently pinning a message to a soft board.

But try to hit one at 200 feet with a rifle.

Wayne Hartford’s father shot them in competition as they were numbered and pushed through a piece of paper and into plywood backing. Hartford learned as a youngster to do the same thing. Now, when the 10-year Covenant Transport veteran driver goes hunting, he is both a hunter and a marksman, and he prefers to shoot most of his game from long distance.

“I started hunting with my dad when I was 15, but I’d been shooting a long while before then,” says Hartford, 58. “My dad used to shoot in competitions. There’d be 20 or so guys show up, and they’d start out shooting at maybe 25 feet, then 50, then 75 and so on. That cut the field down quickly. And they’d keep shooting up to 200 feet or more to get a winner.”

Charles Hartford used a specially built .22 caliber rifle with a long barrel but only a four-power scope. And it was set up to be shot by a left hander. Like his dad, Wayne Hartford is left handed.

“Dad would practice a lot on our back porch. I was born and raised in New Hampshire, and we had nothing behind us but woods, so we could go out there and shoot all day. When we’d practice, the targets were always small, and we’d shoot over distances at them. I was too young for competitions, but shooting became second nature to us. I got pretty good at hitting nickels at 100 yards. Our rifles were set to be accurate at long distances, and they weren’t re-set when we went hunting. So I learned to make 250- or 300-yards shots when I started hunting.”

Distance shooting is a family talent. At a Fourth of July shoot Hartford’s younger brother Scott wanted to shoot, but at 12 years old was too young to enter. His father entered for him, but Scott handled the gun. He won. Years later came a similar incident. When his son Joshua was just 15, Wayne Hartford took him on a hunting expedition to Texas. “There were about 12 of us, and my son shot the highest scoring buck, an eight point, with the smallest rifle, a .223.”

When he was a boy, Hartford and his family re-loaded their own ammunition to save money and learned to shoot straight to save even more. It was a lesson not lost as Hartford aged. When he took to practicing by shooting clay targets, he found a way to make them himself, and unless they took a direct hit he could collect them and use them again. He got good at it, too, hitting in the mid 90s out of a hundred regularly “but never quite getting 100/100.”

But distance shooting held his imagination, and it is a skill that never left him. In the military he was certified as an expert with a rifle up to 1,100 yards.

Another thing has not left him. His father’s hunting rifle. Hartford owns “about 25″ rifles and six pistols, all stored in a safe “as big as a refrigerator, and if we took the ammunition out, we could fit two people in there easy.” (see “Weapons of Choice” on page 37)
Before every hunting season, or after every long break, Hartford checks his rifles to make sure they are calibrated exactly the same way they were the year before. He takes little colored dots, the sort you might see used as price tags, and sticks them on to a target. “When I can hit five of them in a row, the rifle is ready to go,” he says.

Hunting when you plan a shot of 200 yards or more is not the same as the everyday hunting so many Americans enjoy.

“There are a lot of things different,” Hartford says. “In some ways it’s easier because the deer aren’t going to smell you. If you find a good deer trail and have to set up at, say 75 yards, you have to worry they’ll smell you and it limits your choices.”

Branches, underbrush and other impediments can hinder the long-distance shooter because there may be so many of them between the shooter and his target. But Hartford sees them more as a challenge than a problem.

“I have to pick the right place, and then I have to position myself so I can shoot through them cleanly,” he says. “On the other hand if I can find an open spot 200 yards away, I have a major advantage over the regular shooter who might have no cover close enough to the target.

“I think I see the terrain a little differently when I’m out there because I have more choices of places to set up and more angles to approach a trail. Of course, if I shoot something from 400 yards, I’ve got to walk further to get it and bring it out of the woods.”

Hartford finds time to hunt in Texas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, mostly looking for Whitetail deer. But he spends most of his hunting time looking for hogs in Florida with Joshua, now 33.

“I used to be in the construction business, and in New Hampshire that meant you couldn’t get work in winter. When it came time to put Joshua through school, I moved to Florida, where I could work 365 days a year. Then I started on my own building houses, and I did that for 13 years. I got sick of that and I wanted to get around, see the country. So I started driving.”

That was 11 years ago, and for the last 10 Hartford has been with Covenant. He drives the lower 48 and leaves his personal vehicle at the company HQ in Chattanooga, Tenn. When he comes off the road and heads home to the Clearwater area, he calls ahead to set up a hunting date.

“My son has about 20 acres near Brandon, and it has a lot of big hogs on it. We’ve taken some over 300 pounds out of there. Now that’s not long-distance shooting; that can be really close shooting, and you have to be careful. Those hogs, with their tusks, are dangerous.”

Hartford says when he retires he’ll head out for Montana to hunt buffalo (“Where there’s no cover for miles, so I’ll have to shoot from a long way away”), then maybe go looking for more big game in Alaska.

At his home, Hartford has a bare wall where you might expect there to be a trophy head. Maybe there will be one day.

“I’ve never put anything up there,” he says. “I only want a 12-point buck or big game. Nothing less.”

Weapons of Choice
Wayne Hartford usually chooses between three rifles when he plans to hunt deer from a distance.

  • A vintage 30.06 Browning automatic.

  • His father’s rifle, a 30.06 Springfield with a 32-inch barrel, an old World War Two sniper rifle, re-blued, with a new stock and trigger mechanism
  • A seven millimeter Browning Magnum, all stainless steel with a fiberglass stock, $700 scope and left-hand bolt action. It was especially made for Hartford, and he can be accurate up to 1,100 yards with it.

While the rifles are old, the scopes are newer. “In the old days we used 3 x 9 x 40s; now I use 4 x 12 x 54 power.

“Which rifle I use really depends on what sort of day it is and maybe what sort of country,” Hartford says. “If it’s wet or damp weather, I’ll probably use the Magnum. I can drop it into a swamp and still use it. All these rifles are as accurate at they ever were. The Brownings are old enough to have been made in Europe with the highest quality steel. I’m not sure the newer ones are as good, that’s just my opinion.

“The Springfield is the first one I hunted with, and I got it from my father when he was older and quit hunting. I guess for that reason it’s my favorite. It’s as accurate as anything built today. It’s awesome.

“I can switch between them easily enough. I have all of my rifles set with a 3.5-pound trigger pull. They are all machined so you need exactly the same weight on them. If I didn’t do it, I’d have to adjust and pull one at say five pounds and one at seven and the other at maybe three and a half, and then I couldn’t be easily as accurate with them all as I am.”

To Hartford, too many recreational hunters go into the woods not knowing precisely how their rifles will perform in different situations. “I know that a 180-grain Springfield power point bullet will drop about four inches at 250 yards. You don’t have to know that much to be a good hunter, but to be a better hunter you should be aware of how the equipment will work for a specific shot.”


Wild Winter Driving
When you’re in charge of 18 wheels and you come upon snow and ice, driving isn’t fun any more. It’s work. Hard, intense and often dangerous work. So wouldn’t it be fun to look forward to hitting snow-covered routes because you are about to have a blast driving all over that nasty white stuff?

A day trip on a rented snowmobile could be the winter rush you are looking for.

With two rubber tracks and steering skis, a snowmobile is the perfect vehicle for a day out in the drifts. Snowmobiles are used for daily travel in the arctic and a few other areas, but there’s plenty of opportunities for “sled” enthusiasts to enjoy some spectacular recreational rides.

Although snowmobiles have come under criticism that they are less than gentle with the environment, recent developments in the two-stroke internal combustion engine and the creation of the four-stroke engine are creating a lower-impact snow vehicle.

The National Park Service regulates snowmobile operation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, and all snowmobiles are required to meet NPS Best Available Technology requirements. Because high snowmobile activity can negatively impact an ecosystem, the NPS also regulates the level of snowmobile activity in designated areas.

Snowmobiling is a great way to spend an adventurous day alone or with the family, but safety is important before heading out on the slopes. As with any vehicle, alcohol and sleds do not mix. You’ll also need to wear insulated clothing, boots and gloves when riding, and most rental places include clothing in the rental package. Experts at rental places will provide further information before you hit the trails.

Snowmobiling is not a cheap activity, but rental packages that include the vehicle, clothing and multiple days of riding can ease the cost. Here’s some examples:

West Yellowstone, an area of Yellowstone National Park, is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the country. When the snow falls, travelers and tourists flock to the mountains to see the view and take a guided snowmobile tour. Miles of groomed trails in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, in addition to wildlife such as bald eagles, bison, elk, wolves and swans make the area irresistible for a snowmobile trip. For more information on snowmobile rentals in the area, log on to this site in West Yellowstone, Mont., or call (800)522-7802.

Famous for snowy peaks and posh ski resorts, Colorado is also home to history and breathtaking winter scenery. Old mining and ghost towns in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains make Salida, Colo., a prime adventure spot. A number of places accomodate both the experienced and novice rider, such as Tin Cup Pass, Napoleon Pass and Silver Creek. Check out this site for prices and dates.

Mammoth Lakes, Calif., is a classic spot for beginner, intermediate and advanced snowmobile riders. Situated around the San Joaquin Ridge and Lookout Mountain, trails wind around the snowy area. Family tours, guided tours and self-guided tours provide fun at any level. Log on to this site for rates and availability.

In the East the Adirondack Mountains are always changing and ever beautiful. But when the leaves fall, snowmobile riders become eager to hit the hills. This site gives winter lovers a chance to take advantage of the weather for a day or two and tour the hills. Reservations are required, and group rides are available. Log onto the website for more information.

Snowmobiling can also be a winter spectator sport. Snowmobile racing has its place in extreme sports, and there are hundreds of races in several snow states each year. These races are not for amateurs with racing sled speeds up to 150 mph, but a need for speed can be quelled just by watching these machines rip through powder and over water.

Eagle River Derby Track in Eagle River, Wis., is home to the World Championship Snowmobile Derby Jan. 12 to Jan. 15. The race began in 1964 and has since become one of the largest sled races in the world. The track also features a vintage-racing weekend, Jan. 6 to Jan. 8. For more information, check out this site.

Vintage snowmobile racing is life in the northern Minnesota town of Strathcona, known for its historic racetrack. Strathcona hosts races through January and February, featuring the Triple Crown in January. Log on to this site.

A combination of speed, strategy and (sometimes) insanity give the Artic Man race in Summit Lake, Alaska, a space on your lifetime must-see list. Every year, 13,000 spectators flock to the state to witness a relay race between teams made up of one downhill skier and one snowmobile racer. The skier begins at 5,800 feet and drops to 1,700 feet in less than 2 miles, where he meets his teammate on the snowmobile. The snowmobile then pulls the skier by a tow rope a little over 2 miles, uphill, at over 86 mph. Then the skier and snowmobile split, drop another 1,200 feet and meet at the finish line. The 2006 race is set for April 5 to April 9. Check out this site for photos and information.

As usual, we recommend using the Net if you find yourself in winter wonderland country and think about doing a little snowmobiling. For starters try going to google.com and typing into the search box “snowmobile rentals.” As the cowboy with the horse used to say in the days before snowmobiles, “Happy Trails.
–Rachel Telehany

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