Ask Petzal: Flinching, Gun Care, Red Meat, and Dave’s Favorite Movie Ever

David E. Petzal answers your questions about guns, shooting, hunting, and life. Got a question for our rifles editor? Send it to We cannot guarantee polite answers to all questions.

Q: Some studies suggest that eating red meat makes a person stink. Should I forgo red meat before hunting for added scent protection? —Chuck Griffith, Elkhorn, Neb.

A:  Give up red meat? I’d rather come home empty-handed. I long ago stopped paying attention to the way I smell and started paying very close attention to the wind. The system has worked out just fine.

Q: I just bought a Model 71 Beretta .22 that is identical to one I own. Have I crossed some sort of line? —Joe Kristoff, New Hope, Va.

A: Not unless you run out of money. A friend of mine owned something like 15 pre-1964 Winchester Model 70s in .220 Swift and has lived a productive life anyway. Besides, thinking up justifications prevents the brain from drying out. 

Q: My son flinches when he shoots his Winchester Model 94 in .44 magnum. Can I condition him to the .44, or do I get something else for open-country deer? —G.B., via e-mail

A: I’d look very hard at a .243. The .44 is obviously too much gun, and it’s not an open-country load anyway. 

Q: What’s your favorite movie, ever?—Alex Jones, Augusta, Maine

A: Wow. I could name 20, but I’ll go with The Searchers. It’s probably the greatest Western of all time and is now considered one of the greatest American films. As its director, John Ford, said, “It is the tragedy of a loner.”

Q: I run a few rounds through my rifle on a regular basis. Do I have to scrub the barrel every time?Matt, Oakdale, Minn.

A: Three or four rounds isn’t worth cleaning. I’d let it run 20 or more before scrubbing.

Q: I’ve always put electrical tape or plastic wrap over my rifle barrel if I think it might rain. Can I do this if there’s a muzzle brake?Mark Costello, Swoyersville, Pa.

A: I have often wondered about this myself. I think plastic wrap will cling to a muzzle brake better than electrical tape, and I can’t see how it would cause any trouble. The muzzle blast will blow it all away, so you’ll just have to rewrap after you shoot.

Q: I just purchased a new Hi-Point .45 ACP ­carbine. Do you think it would make for a serviceable deer and hog gun at 100 yards and in?Drew Beman, Thurman, Ohio

A: The .45 ACP has great and terrible qualities for target shooting or as a social cartridge, but a hunting round it ain’t. If you want to pound piggies with a pistol, go for a .44 magnum or a .480 Ruger.

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Offhand Shots: Code and Dorothy

When William Cody Loux was born in March of 1894, his namesake, William F. Cody, was squiring his popular traveling show, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, around the East Coast. ¶ I don’t know if Loux’s parents had any special connection to Buffalo Bill, or if they were simply caught up in the excitement of the day. Nor do I know how Loux—whom everyone called Code—and his wife, Dorothy, came to settle on a quarter section of farmland adjacent to our southwest Nebraska farm, where Code eked out a living raising wheat and hunting, fishing, and trapping along Frenchman Creek, which meandered through both our farms. They were there before I was born.

Code was always old, it seemed to me. I have a picture of him holding me, a content infant, on his denim-covered knee, his face shaded by a gray felt Stetson. We spent a lot of time at Code and Dorothy’s, my sister, two brothers, and me. They took care of us while Dad farmed and Mom, a registered nurse, worked the 3-to-11 shift in Imperial, an 18-mile drive away. 

Code had guns and traps and fishing gear around, which he first showed us and later taught us how to use. He also taught us poker, using matchsticks for chips, which did not win Mom’s approval. He chewed leaf tobacco; again, Mom did not approve. 

Dorothy, eight years younger than Code, wore glasses and dresses of a simple pattern. She was plump, I guess you’d say, if you were being honest about it. She had brushed-back hair and a grandmotherly disposition that did not get in the way if discipline was needed. If, for example, a crew-cut kid ignored her admonition to stop throwing exploding snap caps at her feet, she would resort to spanking to make her point, I can attest.

They had an old green pickup they’d take on infrequent 7-mile trips to Lamar for groceries or even more infrequent trips to Imperial. Dorothy sat beside Code on the bench seat for the drive.

They always seemed happy, content. Code died on his 75th birthday; Dorothy, 10 years later.

I wish I had been a bit older, old enough to understand what Code was teaching us about the outdoors. He told us hunting stories, how he lined up multiple ducks or geese to maximize his take per shot. He gave us furs he’d tanned , which we played with until they were filthy and then discarded.

He made me a coonskin cap—the real thing, with a dark-banded tail and the cut-out crown of one of his old Stetsons stitched into the top for comfort. Though competent in everything else, as I recall, Code wasn’t a hatmaker, I guess, because it fit awkwardly, perching on top of my head, so Dorothy tied it on with a length of cotton string for a photo. In the picture, I’m wearing my standard growing-up uniform of hand-me-down white T-shirt, jeans, and worn canvas shoes. Code and Dorothy’s dog, Toto, is tied to a brick behind me, his rope straining around my leg. I’m holding Code’s big single-barrel shotgun, squinting the wrong eye in a coached attempt to look like I’m aiming.

I think of Code and Dorothy now and then—often when I’m hunting or fishing in some far-flung location: while trailing blacktail deer in Alaska snow or hunting whitetails from a treestand in frigid Saskatchewan, on the porch overlooking an escarpment in South Africa, listening to the pitch and yowl of jackals out in the dark.

Code and Dorothy didn’t travel much from their quarter-section farm, certainly not for hunting and fishing. But I think they would be proud of me, the kid on Code’s knee, the kid in the coonskin cap. Maybe I learned something after all.

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6 Early-Season Deer Hunting Setups: Where and When to Hunt a Stand—And When to Relocate

My buddies make fun of me. While I mess up plenty, it’s not blown opportunities, poor gear maintenance, or dumb decisions that result in the heckling. They make fun of me because I have a penchant for swapping stand locations more often than Nicki Minaj changes hairstyles. In my defense—I move because I must.

In the early season, a reluctance to change locations is a fast road to tag soup. Conditions change quickly—often overnight. Whether your season opens in September or October, whether you’re bowhunting or taking advantage of an early firearms season, flux is the norm. Food sources are shifting. Crops are maturing and being harvested. Acorns are dropping and being depleted. Rub lines pop up. Scrapes appear. The key to shooting a whitetail now is to observe and react. Here’s how.

Your Hunting Zone: Agricultural fields
Food Source Potential: Soybeans, alfalfa/hay, corn, wheat, milo/sorghum
Best Time to Be There: Afternoon or evening
Calls/Decoys to Use: A single feeding doe (or a pair) can help calm skittish deer reluctant to enter a field in daylight. Deer often congregate in one location no matter how big the field is. 
Strategy: Bumping deer in ag fields at first light primes a spot for failure. Avoid morning sits until the rut draws near, and plan for a spook-free exit in the evening. Sloppy entries and exits educate a lot of deer in a hurry. Harvest timing and crop maturity can change patterns overnight.
When to Bail: Keep an eye on the beans. When they start to yellow, deer will move to fields that are still green or they’ll change food sources entirely. 
Where to Go: When the fields dry up, head for the oaks that are likely dropping acorns and sucking deer into cover.

Your Hunting Zone: Food plots
Food Source Potential: Oats, soybeans, brassicas, clover
Best Time to Be There: Afternoon or evening (morning can work in certain situations)
Calls/Decoys to Use: None—using decoys in the tight quarters of a small kill plot this early in the season can have a negative impact. 
Strategy: If you’ve positioned yourself near cover, this is one of those rare instances where a morning hunt is possible early in the season. You can catch bucks stopping for a bite as they head from primary ag food sources back to bed. In the afternoon, bucks will often stage on secluded food sources in daylight before heading to primary sources after dark.
When to Bail: If your plot is planted with brassicas but you haven’t had a hard frost, switch to hunt a more palatable food source. Brassica plots don’t see much traffic until after a hard frost. If you’re hunting clover or oats—prime early-season options—and sightings dwindle, don’t overpressure the spot.
Where to Go: Head for the acorns or a bedding-­area funnel if you know you’re on a good buck.

Your Hunting Zone: Bedding-area funnel
Food Source Potential: None
Best Time to Be There: Morning
Calls/Decoys: A few grunts can work if you see a buck and it’s not in range. But blind-call sparingly now, as the rut is still weeks away and you risk spooking mature bucks in the area.
Strategy: This is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. If you have trail camera images (or sightings) of a stomper buck and know where he’s bedding, slipping in well before daylight in an attempt to catch the buck as it returns to bed can pay off big. Use this strategy only after hunting the food source you expect the buck to be using in the evenings. Trail camera images can prove vital here.
When to Bail: If you don’t see or kill the buck during your first or second attempt, it’s time to get out. Pressuring a mature buck near its bedding area this early in the season can move that deer in a hurry—and permanently. 
Where to Go: Try to locate a fresh rub line near a food source now. Set up near its core.

Your Hunting Zone: Mast-laden oaks 
Food Source Potential: Acorns
Best Time to Be There: Morning or evening, depending on conditions
Calls/Decoys: None
Strategy: When acorns start to drop, all other food sources will go cold. The goal is to hunt those oaks the deer are visiting and that allow you to enter and exit your stand without detection.
When to Bail: When the stand you’re hunting dries up, it’s time to roll. 
Where to Go: Head for another oak flat that’s still producing.

Your Hunting Zone: Soft mast
Food Source Potential: Apples, pears, persimmons
Best Time to Be There: Morning or evening, as per conditions
Calls/Decoys: None.
Strategy: Hunting soft mast is very similar to hunting hard mast—locate trees that are producing and dropping. Evaluate the ease of entry and egress. If you can access a stand site undetected before dawn, morning sits can produce. Otherwise, stay out.
When to Bail: Soft mast generally doesn’t last long once it hits the forest floor. When the fruit is gone, you should follow suit. 
Where to Go: Stick to food sources—acorns first if they’re falling, followed by ag crops and food plots.

Your Hunting Zone: Scrape lines
Food Source Potential: None
Best Time to Be There: Morning or evening, if stand entry is possible without detection
Calls/Decoys: If you see a buck that’s out of range, a few grunts are acceptable. Don’t blind-call. Buck decoys can pay dividends.
Strategy: Deer generally visit early-season scrapes after dark, and there’s plenty of science-based data to prove it. But scrapes positioned in cover near bedding areas are visited on the fringes of daylight.
When to Bail: Trail cameras will tell you if the scrape is active enough to warrant an early-season sit. 
Where to Go: Hit the best available food source.

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