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Now's time to check out new rifle loads

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I spent a couple of hours sighting in a new varmint rifle and checking the scope settings on a reliable favorite earlier this week.

Woodchuck hunting is quite popular throughout the spring and summer in central Maryland and you can expect to see your first groundhog of the year any day now. As soon as chucks come out of hibernation (usually around the last two weeks of February), they immediately set out in search of a mate. Except for unusual instances, this is the only time two adult groundhogs will occupy a single den.

The gestation period is from 31 to 32 days and the average litter is four. I usually expect to see young chucks out in abundance about mid-May.

Now is the time of year to check out new varmint rifle loads or stockpile proven ones. I have a number of established accurate loads for my rifles, but always seem to find myself at my reloading press in search of yet another, perhaps faster, even more accurate load for the .17 Remington, .22 Hornet, .223, .22-250 or the .220 Swift.

As a general accuracy guide when testing loads in your varmint rifle, bear in mind that the target area on a groundhog or early spring crop robbing crow is roughly equal to a three-by-five-inch index card.

To make maximum use of your rifle's trajectory, I recommend that you adjust your scope to print your chosen load one inch high at 100 yards. Most local varmint shooting is done beyond that distance, and by using this setting you can cut down on or eliminate holdover guesswork when the ranges stretch out.

Turkey season coming

The spring turkey season is approaching, so now is a good VTC time to learn how to call and get the mid-winter rust knocked off your shotgun.

This will be the first time in modern times that Carroll County will see a wild turkey season. The first statewide regulated spring hunt is set for April 18 through May 16.

Regardless of what type of call you plan to use, get an instruction tape and learn to use that call now. The key to successful calling is not to overdo it.

A number of good turkey loads are available and this is one of the very few times I can recommend the use of steel shot. Steel shot patterns tighter than conventional lead and in this game, you want the tightest pattern you can get. No. 6 shot is the favorite size, though if you do opt for steel, you may want to go with No. 4 or No. 5 shot.

A turkey gun is aimed like a rifle and for this reason you might want to consider putting a 1x or 2x scope on the receiver of your gun and have your favorite gunsmith smooth up the trigger pull. If your gun accepts choke tubes, I recommend a little experimentation with the full and extra-full tubes out to about 40 yards. Also, pattern as many different loads as you can lay your hands on -- you will be amazed at how differently loads will shoot.

Fly fishing tips

Shame on you if you missed this month's meeting of the Patapsco Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited. The guest speaker was saltwater fly fishing great Norm Bartlett, who covered the ABCs of Chesapeake Bay fly fishing.

Bartlett, who holds a number of world records, recommends a rod set up for a 9-weight floating and sinking tip line for general use on bay rockfish, blues, perch and brackish water largemouth bass. He likes a stout 12-inch leader when fishing the sink tip and an equally sturdy leader the same length as your rod when using a weight-forward floating line. Popular fly choices include simple bucktail patterns, popping bugs, Lefty's Deceiver and the Clouser minnow on 1/0 or 2/0 hooks.

The next meeting is set for March 9 beginning at 7 p.m. at the Bear Branch Nature Center at Hashawha Environmental Center on Route 97, just north of Westminster. Bob Lunsford will discuss one of the hottest new trout waters on the East Coast -- the North Branch of the Potomac River.

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