25 July 2008

Elk Rifle Repair: Sako 308 Winchester, cracked wrist (& personal history)

This entry began as a simple account of repairing an older rifle. In the process, though, I came to realize that for me a rifle is no mere utilitarian tool, but is imbued with personal & cultural meaning (see Deetz 1977).

Since my parents' divorce, Dad (Gene Munday Jr.), sister Kate, and I ("Paddy" at that time) lived with our grandparents, Beryl Nell (Fitzgibbons) and Gene Munday Sr. on High Street in Bradford, Pennsylvania. I shared a room with Dad, who was just getting out of the trucking business and working as a driller for Dick Cordner's little oil company. He worked the midnight tour (pronounced "tower" in Bradfordese), and most evenings caught a few hours sleep listening to the voice of "hillbilly singers"--newcomers like Patsy Cline and established performers like the late-great Hank Williams on his favorite radio station, WWVA.

One Saturday afternoon, Dad came home half-drunk, which was not unusual, and happy, which was very unusual. In fact he was ecstatic, and his excitement rubbed off on me--not yet 5 years old. He was holding a brand new rifle, caliber 308 Winchester. It was from Montgomery Wards and the barrel was stamped as such, but it had a Sako L57, "made in Finland," action. Dad had somewhere learned about the virtues of European rifles (perhaps through his service with the Army Aircorps, or a high school friend that had become a Browning Arms salesman).

It was a fine rifle, and turned out to be super-accurate with its Weaver K4 scope. Most everyone at the time hunted with lever action rifles, usually either a Model 94 Winchester in 30-30 (or some variation, such as Gramps' Model 55) or a Model 99 Savage in 300 Savage, and usually with open sights. These rifles were doing good to shoot 5-shot groups of 3 inches at 100-yards. Dad was never much of a hunter (as Gramps liked to say, "He wouldn't make a wart on a hunter's ass.") but he was an outstanding rifle and pistol shot. While the rest of the gang would shoot offhand and hope to hit the Kendall logo on a 5-gallon pail at 100 yards, Dad would rest the little Sako over the hood of his Mercury station wagon and consistently shoot 1-inch (aka "minute of angle" or moa) groups.

I don't recall Dad ever killing a deer with that rifle (or any other), even during Pennsylvania's notorious 2-day doe season. In 1967, the day before the Monday opener of buck season, we were at Gramps' oil lease "sighting in the rifles." It was my first year of legal hunting, and I had no rifle. The best I could hope for was to use Gramps' little 20 gage Winchester Model-12 shotgun with slugs. In a last minute deal, Gramps' good friend Bernard Dutka agreed to loan Dad one of his Savage M99s if Dad would allow me to hunt with the Sako. Bernie explained that the boy needed a rifle to hunt deer with, and his lever action might be too complicated for a novice hunter to shoot safely. But there was a hitch, Bernie went on: "If Paddy [that was me] kills his buck on opening day, then you, Junior [that was Dad], have to give him that rifle."

"Deal," Dad confidently agreed. He had never killed a buck in over 20 years of hunting, so how could he think I would? Crazy like a fox, old Bernie. Next morning he had me stalking along with him on a ridge above Wolf Run. Bernie was a master outdoorsman, and I swear he could herd whitetailed deer like some men herd sheep or cattle. As we walked slowly through the mixed forest of big cherry, beech, maple, oak, and hemlock, we soon had a herd of a dozen deer walking just ahead of us. All does.

But then we heard shooting on a nearby ridge. Bernie stopped us, each of our backs against a large tree. Soon, a spike buck came running toward us through the timber. Bernie dropped to one knee and his 300 cracked. The buck went down just 30 yards or so away from us and began licking its foot. "Kill it, Paddy!" he whispered firmly.

For what seemed forever, I stood aiming at the deer, the front sight sweeping out circles around it. Then the sight settled just behind the deer's shoulder, the 308 boomed, and the deer sprawled out dead. I had previously field dressed one deer and many rabbits and squirrels, and with Bernie's guidance (and sharp pocketknife) the job went quickly. Bernie pulled off his leather belt and we (well, mostly Bernie) dragged the buck a mile or so back to the road. Pennsylvania deer hunting rules: because he had only wounded the deer whereas I had killed it, the buck -- and Dad's Sako rifle -- belonged to me:

I bought a Lee Loader to reload my own cartridges and reduce the cost of shooting, and for the next five years I shot several hundred rounds through that rifle each year. By the time I graduated from high school and headed off to college, the rifle had developed a crack through the wrist, on the top side just behind the rear action bolt.

While I was at college and working at 6-month co-operative job placements, Dad and his friend Bob Thomas ("BAT") shot the rifle often, including several lots of military ammo. The crack opened up, Dad had the rifle restocked by a local gunsmith, and all seemed well.

After graduation from college, I bought the rifle of my dreams -- a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .257 Roberts -- and the old Sako stood in the closet.

Then I moved to Montana 20 years ago, the .308 Sako became my elk rifle and I began shooting it more frequently:

I like the Barnes bullet because they are all copper (no toxic lead) and have reliable expansion and near 100% weight retention (this one came out of a cow elk):

Once again, the little rifle developed a cracked wrist:

This time, I decided to repair it myself instead of having a new stock made for it.

My initial plan was to drill two transverse holes through the wrist -- one near the top, where the wrist arcs down from the main stock; and one where the wrist joins the buttstock. But I did a little web-based research, and from the Brownell site and other places I learned that the usual technique for repairing a crack of this type is to drill lengthwise from the stock inlet and parallel to the crack. A threaded metal rod is then epoxied into the hole. This method has the advantage of being an "invisible" repair.


  • 1/4 inch threaded metal rod (I used stainless steel, although brass is said to be preferable)
  • slow curing, high-strength epoxy


  • variable speed drill
  • long 1/8 inch drill (for pilot hole)
  • long 1/4 inch drill
  • syringe with plastic tubing (to inject epoxy into hole)


  1. remove action from stock
  2. cut threaded rod 1/2" shorter than crack
  3. file flat on one end of rod, then cut a screw slot with a hacksaw
  4. drill pilot hole 3/4" longer than crack (in my case this was 2&1/2 + 3/4 = 3&1/4")
  5. drill 1/4 inch hole 1/2" longer than crack
  6. mix and inject epoxy to fill hole about half-deep, taking care to force air out and fill the bottom of the hole
  7. screw in rod until excess epoxy is forced out (use a small rag to collect excess epoxy)
  8. fill hole completely with epoxy
  9. stand stock butt down, smear a thin coating of grease (as a release agent) on rifle action wherever it might contact wet epoxy, bolt action to stock, allow epoxy to cure one week before shooting

Here's the stainless steel bolt with a slot cut into it:

Time to go to the range. I've been working up an accurate load with Barnes TSX all copper bullets. So far, I've been keeping the powder charge and other variables constant and varying the bullet seating depth (i.e. the overall cartridge length). Here are two 100-yard, 5-shot groups. The 2&1/4"group on the right is with the bullet seated long and nearly touching the rifling lands. The 2" group on the left (with 4 shots in a 1" group) is with the bullet seated about 0.030" deeper. Not bad for an old rifle (and my eyesight):


James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: the archaeology of early American life (Doubleday, 1977). This is a great little read about the importance of artifacts such as gravestones, houses, and dishes in our lives.

Butte, Montana: good hiking, montana wildflowers, and more

Dave Carter, RTD, and I took a hike yesterday. Given that "Butte is just 15 minutes from Montana" and is nearly surrounded by the Continental Divide, there's no lack of good choices. Dave & I look for reasons (Jan Munday & Gloria Carter call these "excuses?") to hike. Yesterday, we were in search of the Lost Dutchman Mine, or something like that, thanks to the rumor of a more-or-less intact turn-of-the-century miner's cabin that some poor soul had walked away from...

So there we were, early in the frosty morning air, looking down a north-facing valley from the top of a mid-elevation, 8,000 foot ridge running from the Divide:

Dave has a GPS and actually knows how to use it (unlike someone that I am who also has one but doesn't...), and he had programmed a couple of waypoints along three likely looking branches of our target valley. Good thing, since both of us had forgotten just how thick the undergrowth could be on these c. 8,000 foot north-facing slopes. Bushwhacking through dense, wonderful stuff like Mountain alder (Alnus incana) that you need a machete to hack your way through. Note the male catkins and female fruits:

No Lost Dutchman mine, but like any hike in a new place, there were lots of things to see, including signs of the Anaconda Company operations that clearcut this area c. 1900 and sent the timber down a flume to feed the copper smelter. Today, it's a lovely, well-watered valley, with tremenous open parks and boggy areas. Looks like great elk habitat: several miles from the nearest road, rugged as hell, and good feeding & bedding areas. I've hunted all around this area, and might give this spot a walk come elk season, so long as I have friends (you're on the list, Dave) that like helping haul elk pieces out of such a place.

Summer wildflowers have taken over these mid-elevation slopes. In the drier areas, there are Common Harebells (Campanula rotundfolia):

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium):

Orange Mountain Dandelion (Agoseris aurantiaca):

Geraniums, both White (Geranium richardsonii):

And pink Sticky (Geranium viscossimum):

Tall Larkspur (Delphinium occidentala):

And lots of grouse food such as Grouse Whortleberry, Elderberry, and (here pictured) Red Twinberry (Lonicera utahensis):

In the wetter areas, there were some trophy (six to eight foot tall) Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum):

And some of the really boggy areas had lots of delicate, beautiful White Bog Orchids (Habenaria dilata):


A lovely spring gushing from the mountain side was blanketed with Monkeyflower, dominated by the common pink variety Mimulus lewisii:


But accompanied by the somewhat uncommon Yellow Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus):

Like most people, I'm attracted to "the fairist among them all." But even the humblest posses their own charm, such as this Western Groundsel (Senecio integerrimus):

If I hunt this high, wet valley come elk season, I'll be lucky to notice the ridge features that will steer me back to the truck. Usually, elk hunting is a matter of keeping your nose to the ground, finding & following a big track, and stalking through the thick stuff in hopes of catching one napping. That's part of the rhythm of the season, and when it's time to hunt I try to be "fully present" (as the Zen Buddhists say) in that activity, getting into the seams of space/time. For now, it's summer hiking time.

23 July 2008

Watching the Berkely Pit Fog and Eating Well (and trout fishing) in Butte Montana

We had a tremendous lightning storm and downpour yesterday late afternoon, glad I was off the river for that one. Fishing in the canyon can be excellent during a thunderstorm and with hail etc, for some reason, fish often bite like crazy on anything you put in front of them at that time. But it's a little hair-raising to be standing in 3 feet of water and waving a graphite stick around with lightning bolts crashing on the ridges above and behind you.

Anyway, after the storm we were treated to a unique Butte, Montana, weather phenomenon: Pit Fog. The Berkeley Pit is Butte's notorious toxic lake full of acidic metals-laden mine waste water (click the BP link for a photo). The pit generates another entity, Pit Fog. On cold, still winter mornings, Pit Fog rises up and drags its belly over Butte. Pit Fog also comes alive when the air over the valley (and the pit) cools suddenly, as with yesterday's storm. Here is a view from our front porch in Walkerville of Pit Fog creeping up the Moulton Valley, with the Lexington gallows frame (aka mining head frame) silhouetted at right center:

Reminds me of that line from Yeats' poem, The Second Coming:

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Well, man (and woman) live not by poetry alone. What's for supper? Fresh Big Hole River trout:

For some years I tried embracing the diehard absolutist catch & release ethic of flyfishing for trout (many days, I still practice the ideal). But, as friends such as Chad Okrusch noticed, I salivate while releasing trout. Yesterday morning, I released nearly all of the trout I caught. But, mouth watering, I could not resist the temptation of two fresh trout and a bottle of chilled white wine (and thou -- that is my wife, Jan Munday). Mmmm good. All of 'em.

22 July 2008

Big Hole River Trout Fishing; Wildetarianism

Fished a couple of hours on the Big Hole River this morning. As Butte, Montana's, homewater, it's just 25 miles away and mostly via interstate at that. Still, all things are relative. Growing up in Bradford, Pennsylvania, on the Allegheny Highlands, it was a wet climate with high carrying capacity and there were numerous good trout streams within ten miles of the house. I always felt it was a little bit far to drive over to Kinzua Creek to fish the Guffey reach--by far my favorite water there.

The Big Hole River fished very well this morning. For the first hour or so, a big (size 12) Royal Wulff attractor was just the thing, and some decent (12" to 15") trout -- mostly rainbows -- were on it. Rainbows of that size are great acrobats, sometimes leaping 2 or 3 feet into the air after being hooked. More than once I've had them leap over my head as I was wading deep. A few much larger browns in the 2 to 3 pound range rolled at but did not take the fly. It's always exciting, if a little disappointing, when they do that.

There were few rises, no hatch, and only a few smallish caddis and mayflies flitting about. That was surprising, as there is usually a midmorning hatch of some kind. But it was a dark, cool, and somewhat rainy morning.

For the second hour or so, I switched to a beadhead (the Prince is my "go-to" pattern on the Big Hole) and caught several good fish before the action again slowed to a stop. Not a bad morning. As I cleaned two of the last trout I caught (for supper tonight), RTD agreed it was time to go home, especially with that larger rainstorm sweeping down the valley.

And, oh, the solitude. How ironic that in the Pintler Wilderness last weekend I was never "alone." There were always other tents or hikers in view. Yet this morning, on the Big Hole River -- one of America's truly premiere cold water fisheries -- I was utterly alone. No other anglers in site, no trucks parked at the fishing access sites above or below where I parked, and not a single raft or drift-boat passed by. What a tremendous, quality experience. Though I should note that I also had many similar days of solitude on Kinzua Creek and the "crowded" waters of Pennsylvania.

At home, lunching on a piece of chicken from the Howard-chicken that Jan roasted for our Sunday dinner, I reflected on what it means to eat only wild game, fish, and free range domestic critters. From a few Missoula guys I talked with several weeks ago, I heard the term "wildetarian," and that seems to fit pretty well.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to hunt and subsist on wild game, of course. I feel sorry for such people, and am not sure what I would do in that situation. I would not want to make a regular diet of factory-farmed beef, chicken, and pork etc. The ethics of factory farm mass production are appalling (see the video "The Meatrix").

I suppose I would be vegetarian, subsisting on nuts and tofu etc. But it would be a step down in many ways. The taste of meat is good and something that we have evolved to appreciate. Furthermore, being connected to the land and the environment through hunting is deeply meaningful.

Each time I eat elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, or antelope, I honor the individual animal, recall the hunt, and warmly think of the place where I killed it. Not all hunters think this way, though I cannot understand those who don't. For some, it's just a matter of drive the backroads, kill something, throw it in the truck, and bring it to the butcher. Many hunters do not even care for the taste of wild game, and end up giving it away, feeding it to the dogs, or even throwing it away.

Well, enough of such thoughts. For tonight there will be fresh trout, a pot of brown rice, and whatever fresh veggies Jan shows up with. Oh yeah, let'd not forget a well-chilled bottle of white wine. Enjoy.

19 July 2008

Pintler Wilderness Vision Quest

I parked early in the morning at the Storm Lake trailhead. It's a popular camping spot for rowdy Anacondans, much like Delmoe Lake for Buttians. Roaring motorcyles and ATVs, loud music, heavy drinking, gunfire... it's a wonder that more non-resident vehicles are not shot up up while parked at the trailhead. Storm Lake is a pretty place early in the morning when it's still quiet:

But even more so for Anacondans than for Buttians, the Pintler is their backyard wilderness. Many of the "30" license plates are there to hike, not to party. For all of us, the wilderness, "ah, what a feeling:"

Yeah, it's only a line on a map, but it's a line that (mostly) excludes the motorheads and preserves fragile places of beauty, like this creek tumbling down a steep mountain side:

Here's RTD posing next to a hollow tree where "Banjo" might have lived as a small child:

Banjo was an orphan girl raised by her forest animal friends. Banjo was a sort of alter-ego for my daughter Emily Munday when she was young, and bedtime stories often involved intricately woven tales of Banjo's many adventures. How, here's one of Banjo's friends now, Mulie, peaking through the timber :

Unlike recent years, snow drifts are lasting well into summer, even at lower elevations along the Pintler trails:

Don't eat the pink snow, it's psychotropic. You ask, "How do you know?" Don't:

As you crest Storm Lake Pass, you gain a sweeping view of Goat Flat:

After hiking across the narrow trail on the steep face of Mt Tiny, you're there:

Magic place, Goat Flat, with patterned ground:

And of course goats (or, at least, goat fur):

The main purpose of this trek was to visit Kurt Peak, a vision quest site once used by several indigineous cultures. But in making this quest, I also came to learn that wilderness does not always equal solitude. And of course I could not help but notice the outstanding wildflower display that is gracing the high country this year.

Peak Bagging

After making camp, RTD and I took an easy walk up Mount Tiny. At 9,869 feet, it's not much higher than Goat Flat. From the peak, there is a great view east to Howe, Evans, and Haggin peaks. I find it remarkably comforting and satisfying to look out on familiar areas:

Although only 9,977 feet, Kurt Peak is a kick-ass place to scramble (Sierra Club M3 rating), at least along the ridge from the Goat Flat side. The route follows a jagged ridge that defines the word "craggy." There is lots of exposure along most of the route. A view of the approach from the Goat Flat side. Kurt Peak is on the right, with a smaller false peak in-between, and the Goat Flat take-off point on the left. The saddle between Goat Flat and the first (false) peak is especially challenging to get around, as there are several 10 to 20 foot cliffs:

It's not overly dangerous and can be followed by a non-technical scrambler, but you do want to exercise some precautions. And it definitely calls for strong legs, good balance, and no paralyzing fear of heights/exposure. Here's a short list based on my peak-bagging scrambles, rambles, and (occasionally) shambles:
  1. Wear good boots with a Vibram-type sole and a pronounced heel. The heel is especially important when descending on snow (see "kicking steps," below), but it provides the grip you need for descending on all sorts of terrain.
  2. Every step you take is a little scouting foray. Always be prepared to backtrack if the route looks like trouble.
  3. As sort of a corollary to the previous point, don't be in a hurry. Start early and allow yourself plenty of time before the thunderheads begin to build, as they often do in the mountains on warm afternoons. Watch the sky, and if the anvil clouds begin forming, consider your trek a scouting foray and come back another day.
  4. Carry a stout hiking staff and maybe an ice axe.
  5. Feel the geology. The strike and dip will give you a sense of the structural features that make climbing easier.
  6. Follow the mountain goats. Well, not literally--I'm not suggesting that any human can go where a goat can go. But generally, goats take the easiest route--when you see numerous goat tracks and signs leading one way or another around a ridgeline feature, Oreamnos might be trying to tell you something.
  7. Look back often. Most of us don't have "photographic memory," but you will recognize your return route when you get to it. That is, if you have turned around so that you have actually seen that view before.
  8. Know how to kick steps properly on a snowfield, whether traversing, ascending, or descending. Keep your weight over your feet, keep your feet level, face the direction you are going, and use your staff or ice axe as a third leg.
  9. Test hand holds and ledges before committing your weight to them. Nothing like having a 50-pound goonie come loose as you're pulling yourself up to a ledge.

Don't forget to enjoy the hike! Listen to the pikas cheer you on. Watch the marmot drape its belly over a warm rock. Some of the coolest flowers grow in the nooks and crannies you find as you weave your way along a ridge. Like this one, some species of Primrose I think:

It was good to be on top, enjoy the view, have a snack and a drink, and rest my legs for the return (but not for long; the cumulus were building). Here's the view west (to Warren Peak) from Kurt Peak:

Alpine Wilflowers

Unlike trying to photograph birds or mammals that are constantly either on the move or at long range, it's easy to sneak up on a flower for a close-up. The incredible spring bloom continues, fed by snowdrifts melting in the warm July sun:

Goat Flat is a literal carpet of wildflowers. I felt a little guilty at every step, and tried to walk where I might do the least damage:

Buttercups, including the Mountain Buttercup (Ranunuculus eschscholtzii) dominate much of the tundra, I think perhaps because they are toxic and thus thrive as more edible species are eliminated by marmots and browsers such as goats:

Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum) are everywhere in the Alpine meadows this year:

As are Elephantheads (Pedicularis groenlandica):

Four-angled Mountain Heather (Cassiope tetragona) is a little more choosy, forming dense mats here and there (there was also Yellow Mountain Heather (Phyllodoce granduliflora), but I failed to get a good photo]:

The tiny Alpine Forget-me-not (Eritrichium nanum) grows on the tundra, and you'll understand the name if you bend down and take in the incredible fragrance:

Like Forget-me-nots and heather, Moss Campion or Carpet Pink (Silene acaulis) is a cushion plant that helps create its own micro-environment:

Elk Gentian or Showy Green Gentian (Frasera speciosa) looks rather bland at first glance:

But on close inspection you appreciate the "showy" part:

Stonecrop (Sedum sp.) is easy to recognize as a genus, but I haven't figure out the species details:

Out of habit, you expect Alpine wildflowers to be tiny. Then an out-sized Aster (Aster sp.) shows up and defies the pattern:

In the drier woods along the edges of the tundra were Nuttal Violets (Viola nuttalli) and other woodland flowers. I resisted the urge to pluck a handful as a colorul and tasty garnish for my noodles:

I camped just below treeline where I hoped my bivvy sack might not be such a good target for a lightening bolt. The Alpine Larch were in "flower" with their delightful, purplish cones:


Small world, the Pintler Wilderness. Hiking in from a popular trailhead for a popular destination, I hardly expected to be alone. Yet I go to the wilderness for solitude, and at first glance often resent seeing others. But that feeling quickly disappears (well, usually) after meeting and talking with them.

First came the wilderness ranger (Lucinda Jann?) as I was setting up camp. We chatted a bit, played the name game, and came up with shared acquaintences such as Paul Olson. Now retired, he was still working for the FS when I met him the first time, also on a Goat Flats hike.

Then there were the two old guys (for me to say that, one must appear to be 65+) I met on Mount Tiny. We chatted a bit, played the name game, and came to realize that one fellow's mother, a Dunn, was also from Walkerville.

Hiking to and from Kurt Peak, I passed a tent set up in a last fringe of trees below the ridge. Turns out it was Jim Costello and Mary Costello of the Rock Creek Alliance in Idaho. They are fighting the stupid Rock Creek Mine, which the Forest Service wants to permit for the Cabinet Wilderness. Jim and Mary and I knew many folks in common, including Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited, Chris Brick of the Clarkfork Coalition, and Jim Kuipers, a technical consultant that also works for the Clark Fork River Technical Assistance Committe.

Small world, the wilderness.