Steve Comus' Blog

    Steve Comus is a former Guns and Hunting Editor at WON. Before joining the staff at Western Outdoors more than a quarter-century ago he had a complete career as a frontline journalist with the L.A. afternoon daily Herald-Examiner, including quite a bit of foreign correspondence and years of investigative assignments.

    Since he took a break from WON, he has written articles for most of the major publications in the shooting sports industry, authored a couple of books and published a couple of others, spent a while as editor of Gun World magazine and is currently director of publications for Safari Club International.

     His writings focus on guns and shooting and all of the things that affect them, as well. 
Fizz it
Whether it is a dove hunt or any other hot weather hunt, like some of the early bow seasons or the coastal season for deer, success often results in gooey, sticky, yucky hands. Face it, when one processes game, it is a red-handed affair - and with birds, add pesky little feathers to the mix.

There is a fast and easy way to clean up, whether the processing occurs in the field or back at the truck or camp. It’s carbonated water. Although plain soda water can work, I like using any kind of diet soda.


EXTRA HAND HELPS when cleaning hands after field processing game. Here, hunting buddy Matthew Hubbard-Rossiter manipulates the can while author, left, washes hands with diet soda.

Two reasons for this; First, it works just as well as plain soda water; and second, I like to take a swig when I open the can/bottle and then another to finish it off when the cleanup is done. Flavored diet soda tastes much better than plain old soda water.

Generally, a 12-ounce can is enough to clean both hands and knife. Yes, the diet soda also cleans the blade, and even gets down into the nooks and crannies of folding knives.

Although it is possible to manipulate the can/bottle and clean hands all by one’s self, it is much easier and quicker if a hunting partner can do the can/bottle handling, while the red-handed hunter uses both hands, simultaneously, to clean off the goo.

It doesn’t matter whether the blood, etc. is wet, sticky, semi-dry or even fully dry. The diet soda cuts right through, and gets the job done.

What is really nice, is that diet soda does a fantastic job of getting the goo/dried blood out from under and around fingernails – much better and a whole lot quicker than plain water or even soapy water.


WASHING KNIFE ALSO works well with diet soda. The bubbly stuff gets down into all of the nooks and crannies, even on folders.

A note is in order here. It is not such a good idea to use regular sugared soda. The bubbles will help cut through the blood and goo, but the sugar in the soda leaves the hands/knife sticky. Yuk.

It takes a lot more plain water to accomplish the task – enough that, rarely, does a hunter in hot environs carry enough to both drink and clean. The nice part about the diet soda is that it can fit easily into the daypack or fanny pack – or even cargo pocket on pants – and doesn’t weigh a bunch. There is no need for it to be cold. In fact, hot seems to allow it to work even faster.

Another thing to note: When in the field, where keeping sodas cold is not really practical, hot diet soda also cuts through the dry throat/cotton mouth really effectively, even if used only to gargle or wash out the mouth.

It is amazing how handy a simple can/bottle of diet soda can be on a hunt, which brings up another thought. Keep a candy bar handy for a quick pick-me-up after a successful hunt and hand/knife cleaning. No real need to do so, just tastes good. And why not? Works for me.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Stylin’ rig
I suppose it falls primarily into a category called a line extension. I’m talking about a pleasing look for a winning rifle combination.

Savage™ Arms has introduced the new model 11 Trophy Hunter XP Youth Muddy Girl® scoped-rifle package. The Muddy Girl camo pattern has become quite popular, and I can understand why. It looks nice in a camo sort of way.


SAVAGE MUDDY GIRL Model 11 Youth Rifle adds a new look to a combo rig.

The combo features a factory-mounted and bore-sighted Nikon BDC 3-9x40mm scope on a model 11 rifle with a button-rifled barrel, detachable magazine and the famed AccuTrigger™. Its stock is dipped in Muddy Girl camouflage.

“The Nikon BDC 3-9x40mm scope with a specialized reticle that can be tailored to specific loads using included software,” Savage reported. “The system lets hunters hold dead-on at long range while maintaining an effective sight picture at shorter distances. The rifle is offered in four calibers to give young shooters options to pursue everything from varmints to big game.

“To enhance comfort and fit, Savage minimized overall weight and redesigned the stock of the standard 11 Trophy Hunter around the dimensions of smaller-framed shooters,” the company continued.

The rig features the Savage 110 action, floating bolt head, and thread-in, zero-tolerance headspace system. The rifle also features a button-rifled barrel, detachable box magazine and user-adjustable AccuTrigger™.

The right-handed rifle weighs 7 pounds and holds four rounds. It has barrel length of 20 inches with an overall length of 39.5 inches. Rate-of-twist ranges from 1-in-9 inches to 1-in-10 inches, depending on caliber.

Chamberings available are .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester. MSRP is $660.

I have been shooting the Plain Jane version of this rig for some time and can report that it not only is everything Savage says it is, but it also is one heck of a lot of fun to use.

Initially I bought the rig to help me introduce some grand nephews and niece to deer hunting. My rig is chambered for .308 Winchester and it delivers sub-inch groups at 100 yards when the shooter pays attention.

But the fun factor begins where the normal accuracy and function leave off. This is a serious hunting rifle. It carries superbly, swings and points instinctively and is light enough to carry either all day in the field or up and down, in and out of tree stands and the like.

The young folks have enjoyed shooting the rifle and have noted no objections to the .308’s soft recoil. That’s nice.

Over time, however, I think that I probably am having more fun with this rifle than they are, only because its balance and handling qualities are simply outstanding.

What about the short stock? Oddly, I find that I shoot it well and haven’t suffered scope-bite in the process. When shooting from some field positions, the shorter stock is actually handier.

Savage also offers the 11 Trophy Hunter XP Youth scoped-rifle package with a black synthetic stock and matte black barrel in right- and left-hand versions. Learn more at

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Over the years, and at increasing frequency, I see folks experiencing the problems created when stuff is attached to rails on firearms. We’re talking about things becoming loose in ways that interfere with proper function, all the way to physically falling off.

Pivotal in the concept of modern firearms is the Picatinny rail. This attachment mechanism s also known as the MIL-STD-1913 rail, STANAG 2324 rail or tactical rail. Essentially it is a base with regularly spaced cross-slots that is attached or integral to the arm itself.

ROBUST CONNECTIONS ARE critical if gear attached to modern arms is to remain tightly in-place over time. Leupold’s Mark 4 rings are made to fit properly into the Picatinny rail and are robust enough to handle extended use without loosening or failing.

As much as the modular options offered by the rail is part and parcel of what makes a modern firearm versatile, anytime you add something to a gun, you take something away. In the case of rails and the things attached to them, what is taken away is solidity.

This risk factor is magnified when there is more than one level of attachment. For example, if a sight, light or other gadget attaches directly to the rail, that is one level. But if there has to some kind of attachment added to the bolt-on device in order for it to be attached to the rail, that is another level.

The first order of business is to make connections as direct as possible. Next is to attach the unit properly. It may sound strange, but I have seen instances where the attachment itself is not squared with the rail. Not only does this make effective use of the unit virtually impossible, but also it virtually guarantees that the unit will work itself loose.

TWO CROSS BOLTS are better than one for most connections to rails on arms. Here is a Yankee Hill Machine bipod adapter in-pace. This unit also is used on conjunction with Harris bipods, so to be tight and right.

Sometimes the unit doesn’t fit tightly into the rail – like there is a tiny amount of forward or rearward movement possible. After squaring the attachment, anchor it forward or rearward before final tightening. Then actually use it. In use, the unit will begin to loosen if all is not exactly right. When that happens, tighten it again and use it more. If all is well, the unit will settle in within one or two tightenings.

The heavier a unit is, the more stress there is on the connection during use. If anything attached is heavy, make certain the attachments are robust. Otherwise, the stresses on small parts can defeat the connection.

With the exception of the really small, light red dot kinds of sights, it is usually mandatory that there be at least two cross bolts through the rail if the unit is to be able to remain tightly in-place over time.

Bottom line is that truly tactical/practical gear needs to be robust enough to hold up under constant use and it needs to be assembled properly and solidly.

If there is any one point in the connecting mechanism where everything depends on one small connector or a flimsy system, there is little hope that everything will remain tightly in-place over time.

When in doubt, use robust gear and make certain it is attached properly and tightly. Regardless the system, check it routinely to make certain it is still tight.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Go light
If this is summertime, it is clay target season. For more fun, go light on the loads.

Typically, 12-gauge target loads feature 1 or 1-1/8 ounces of shot going between 1,145 and 1,325 feet per second. But targets break fine with lesser loads.

This became totally clear when required ammo for international competition was limited to 24 grams some years ago. Twenty-four grams is between ¾ and 7/8 ounce. To give an idea how close those shot charges really are, there are 43 to 48 pellets difference between ¾ and 7/8-ounce, depending on shot size.

DIFFERENCE IN WADS between 7/8-ounce, left, and ¾-ounce, right, is a raised bump at the bottom of the shot cup, which takes up the slight difference in volume between the two.

OVERALL WAD SIZE is the same for 7/8-ounce loads, left, and ¾-ounce loads, right.

What happened when the international competitors switched to the lighter loads? Scores went up. The shooters weren’t getting pounded as hard and they were not fatigued as much at the end of a long competition.

International trapshooters typically use a modified or improved modified choke for the first shot and full choke for the second shot, if needed.

So the simple answer is to buy some of the international loads or 7/8-ounce loads, if you can find them (Fiocchi offers ¾-ounce, 24-gram and 7/8-ounce loads). For those who reload, it is easy – there are lots of recipes for 7/8-ounce and 24-gram loads.

The only caveat here is that most of those loads are going out rather briskly – like 1,325 to 1,350 fps. When the same shot charges go out at 1,200 fps, the gun really shoots softly.

I have been using ¾-ounce 12-gauge reloads for months on both trap and skeet. In skeet there is no question about their effectiveness, because ¾-ounce is the classic 28-gauge load and it has been a skeet standard for eons.

For trap, it gets a little more complicated, but not much. At 16 yards, the ¾-ounce 12-gauge loads at 1,200 fps work great with modified choke. By 20 yards, it is best to choke down to improved modified and to full out to 22 or 23 yards. Beyond that, it is time to boost the shot charge.

SAME SHOT CHARGE can fit into the 28-gauge shell, left, and 12-gauge, right.

These ¾-ounce 12-gauge loads also have worked fine for me on both dove and quail in the desert. Makes sense, because my mainline dove and quail load is a .410 with ½-ounce of shot.

Back to ¾-ounce 12-gauge loads. They work fine in pumps, but tend not to cycle in most semi-autos. For break-open over/unders or doubles with single triggers, they may or may not create enough inertia to set the trigger for the second shot. Vertical or horizontal doubles with double triggers or mechanical single triggers handle them fine.

Check reloading data for ¾-ounce loads. Although some of the recipes call for the Claybuster CB0178-12 wad, the crimp may be a bit deep. Not long ago, Claybuster came out with the CB0175-12 wad. The differences between the two are color (7/8 wad is gray and ¾ wad is pink) and the ¾ wad has a hump at the bottom of the shot cup to take up the difference in volume (both wads overall take up the same volume in the case).

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

Prepare now
It may sound a bit odd at the end of the first half of the year, to say it is time to start preparing for fall/winter hunts. The difference between success and failure may hinge on it.

Let’s focus on the centerfire rifle for hunting medium to large game. And, let’s start at the beginning.

If the rifle to be used is not yet in-hand, now is the time to get it and the outfit it fully.

PREPARE RIFLE RIG for upcoming hunts by making certain all elements like rifle and sights are installed correctly and properly assembled into the rig, as is shown here with a New Ultra Light Arms rifle, Leupold scope and sling in an MTM rifle rest. Such rests work great for both cleaning and working on the rig.

There are two categories of focus. One is to get the complete rifle package up-to-snuff (includes rifle, sights, sling, ammo, even the case in which the rig will be transported). The other is to begin a deliberate series of range/practice sessions in which effective use of the rig by the individual shooter is established. At the time of the shot on a hunt, it doesn’t matter how inherently accurate a rifle is. What matters is how the hunter can deliver the bullet to the kill zone at that moment, under those conditions.

To begin, make certain that the rifle is clean – including the bore and all functioning parts of the action. No need to have an excessively fouled bore or gummy action parts get in the way in the field.

Next, make certain that all screws, bolts, etc. are tight (this check is proper each time the rig is used and absolutely when leaving for the hunt).

Now choose the exact load that will be used on the hunt. Different brands, different bullet weights, different bullet styles and composition can all shoot differently in a given rifle. Differentials can be enhanced when using lead-free bullets.

PRACTICE DIFFERENT POSITIONS between now and hunt time. Here, a bipod is being used from the prone position.

Next, it’s time for an initial range session, which needs to result in the rig being sighted-in. That means that the bullet goes where the shooter wants it to go. Depending on the sights and the intended hunt, it is good to have the point of impact be on-target, one, two or three inches above line of sight at 100 yards.

If a new ammo brand/style/bullet weight is used, make certain that it delivers an acceptable group through that particular rifle. Ideally, a group of shots will be within an inch or less at 100 yards from the bench. For most hunts, half again that size can work fine.

On the second trip to the range, first confirm that the rig is still zeroed. That can be done by firing one or a couple of shots off the bench.

Then begin shooting from the various supported and unsupported field positions. Try one or two shots from one position and then do the same from a different position, etc. This process is slow and doesn’t require the use of a lot of shots. Quickly, it will become evident where work needs to be done to be able to deliver killing shots at distance.

For successive range sessions, repeat the procedure above. And every time, make certain all screws and bolts are tight.

Yes, now is the time to prepare.

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Steve Comus is a nationally recognized hunting editor with Safari Club International and a former WON Guns and Hunting Editor. His column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

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