Another Crazy Hunt

If my hunts keep going like this, I’ll have to start writing comedy.
By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director

My friendship with Spencer Durrant began with a bit of bad luck during a crazy hunt chasing after turkeys. We didn’t bag a bird, which you’ll hear us discuss in our upcoming debut podcast episode. Usually, when bad luck plagues a hunt so thoroughly, I tend to think I’ve got all the bad luck out of the way for a while.

My recent archery hunt proved that wasn’t the case. 

The snowball effect began before I even made it onto the mountain to chase deer with my bow. For once, I tried to get ahead of the mad-dash packing fiasco we’re all familiar with. I inventoried all my gear and made my shopping lists. I even managed to find my old fly rod and reel, which to my amazement still worked. 

I deflated from my excitement rapidly when I got back from Sportsman’s Warehouse and my wife set the water bill in my lap. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill billing notice. We’re talking an extreme anomaly or a severe leak. Worse yet, it was Friday night. I wouldn’t be able to call city utilities until Monday – the day I was headed out hunting.

Fast forward to Tuesday morning. I still had no clue what was going on with my water, but I’d thoroughly checked my house and grounds for any immediate problems and requested a work order from the city. I’d only lost a day. At least that’s what I thought.

The next morning, I woke up to sunlight shining through my window. My phone had died during a power outage, so the alarm that was going to wake me at six didn’t go off. Instead, I woke up at nine-thirty.

I finished packing, ended up having a conversation with my neighbor about the water problem, and didn’t get to my dad’s house until after noon. We hitched up his camper to his truck, the ATV trailer to mine, and got off thinking we had enough time to get to Cedar City, head up the canyon, and still hunt in the evening.

Yeah, that’s not how things were happening on this trip.

As we were getting close to Nephi, I suddenly found myself way ahead of my dad. I slowed down to 60 and drafted behind a semi for a good twenty minutes waiting for him to catch up. He never caught up, but I got ahold of him on the phone (via voice command folks, I promise). He told me his steering was getting squirrelly when he tried going over sixty. 

We stopped in Nephi but couldn’t find anything wrong. I figured it was just wind pushing his outfit around through the canyon. To be safe though, we crawled along at 60 miles-per-hour to Cedar City. When we finally got into town, it was way too late to head up the canyon. We crashed at my grandma’s house for the night.

The next morning, we got up, headed up the canyon, and set up camp. The first hunting we were able to do wasn’t until Wednesday evening. We started with an ATV road-hunt through some trails where we’d seen a lot of deer in previous years. At this point, it was my bow’s turn to give me problems. 

I’m pretty proud of my bow, though I get crap for it sometimes. After all, it’s a 1970s single-cam. But I’ve dropped two deer within five years and love the classic wood look. However, the manual screw-in site pins apparently weren’t designed with ATV engine vibration in mind. Just a half-mile down a trail, I heard a subtle plop-plop and looked down to see my pins falling off my bow. 

Amazingly, I found all my pins but couldn’t sight it back in again until the next day. I’d practiced reflex shooting before and felt confident out to about 20 yards, so I wasn’t too mortified.

Not that it mattered. The lack of typical August rainfall seemed to have disrupted the usual late summer deer patterns. We didn’t see anything.

Thursday morning, I planned to hike down deep to my breadbasket area. Same place I’d dropped a four-point a few years earlier on my first archery hunt. I’m sure most of you would understand if I leave this little spot nameless. Suffice to say, it’s one of my favorite spots, both for the success I’ve had there as well as the family history in the area.

But even this sweet spot wasn’t good enough to overcome the current of crazy that was this trip.

While driving to where I usually start my hike, my check engine light comes on. When we stopped and turned the engine off, we could hear the radiator fluid boiling. Since it was too early for a shop to be open, we hunted for a few hours (saw nothing, again). Then, we headed down the canyon. 

The head gasket had blown, and the negative pressure kept the radiator fluid from circulating which caused the engine to overheat catastrophically. How I was able to haul an ATV trailer all the way down to Cedar City and then up a mountain before the problem manifested itself is beyond me. 

My dad had to head home early with his camper, so he could make a second trip back to get the ATVs. I finally got into the deer and spotted a few big bucks Saturday night but lost daylight before I could stalk close enough for a good shot. And that was that. I helped my wife pack up and leave in her car Sunday morning and came home with my dad Sunday afternoon when he came to get the ATVs.

It was sure a crazy hunt, but it wasn’t what I would call a bad hunt. Cedar Mountain was looking beautiful this year. Navajo Lake and the other smaller lakes nearby were full for the first time in years. In response to some of the fires up there in recent years, they’re finally letting loggers go after the trees killed by wood beetles. New, young growth is sprouting up everywhere.

One of the hikes I made took me up above 9,000 feet and gave me a spectacular view looking south towards Zion National Park. Southern Utah is truly God’s country, and even though my trip had been the hunt from hell in a lot of ways, I still got to walk in places that are the closest thing a mortal man can come to heaven. Sometimes, that’s all a hunter really needs.


Justin Stapley is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.

Self-Defense: Is Stopping Power a Myth?

By Justin Stapley | Shooting Director


I’ve been a .40 S&W guy my whole life. My thought process has always been that it’s an excellent middle ground between the .45 ACP and the 9mm. The .40 S&W maintains a respectable level of power yet still allows increased ammo capacity and decreased recoil – and it has great stopping power.

Until a few years ago, my fellow shooting enthusiasts and firearms instructors supported this theory. In 2014, the FBI shocked everyone by announcing a return to the 9mm as their standard-issue round. For justification, the FBI pointed to in-house studies , documented in this FBI Executive Summary, which concludes that “Handgun stopping power is simply a myth.”

Since then, a lot of organizations and individual gun owners have adopted this mentality – that stopping power is a myth. The growing belief is that the only meaningful considerations for ammunition type are capacity, penetration, and light-recoil. I’m still a .40 S&W guy because I figured one study is one study. But I am often hard-pressed to defend myself against claims I’m sacrificing speed, accuracy, and ammo capacity with no benefit gained.

Eventually, I got serious and started trying to learn more about the FBI’s findings. I also did some heavy reading on traditional understandings about the idea of “stopping power.” In this article, I’ll lay out what I’ve found.

My Findings

While the FBI Executive Summary claims their findings debunked the idea of stopping power, that isn’t necessarily the proper conclusion to draw from their data.

The data, and the administrative assertions of the FBI, point to the reality that stopping power is and continues to be highly misunderstood. Many of the diverging opinions and conclusions surrounding the FBI findings result from different ideas of what stopping power is.

What is stopping power?

When the FBI Training Division said stopping power is a myth, and when marksmen and shooters repeat this claim, they’re defining stopping power as stopping somebody in their tracks, or even knocking them back. If this were what stopping power was, the FBI wouldn’t have needed to debunk it.

Every learned and knowledgeable marksman knows that the movie magic of somebody getting knocked back – when shot – as if kicked by a mule is laughable. And, most marksmen recognize that the chance of dropping an assailant dead with a single shot is highly improbable. It should be evident that stopping power means more than these ideas, or it wouldn’t be something serious marksmen have ever discussed.

Stopping power is better defined as the ability to effectively and swiftly incapacitate (stop) the assailant and end the altercation. More specifically, it relates to the combination of several ballistic factors, including tissue displacement and transfer of energy leading to trauma, shock, and hemorrhaging.

What the FBI findings actually point to is a conclusion that speed and accuracy play a much more substantial role in determining stopping power than was previously believed. Rapid and precise placement of small, high-speed projectiles to a lethal area has more stopping power than scattered and slower placement of large, low-speed projectiles.

Is it ammunition-based?

This is the part where the FBI Executive Summary and its defenders make too bold of a claim. The actual performance of various ammunition doesn’t point to stopping power being a myth; it points to a more accurate conclusion that a larger round does not grant more stopping power absent good training and marksmanship skills. If a marksman can place larger projectiles rapidly and precisely, then there is more tissue displacement, more transfer of energy, and more stopping power.

The reason the FBI, and other organizations that followed their lead, went back to the 9mm, truly relates less to the superiority of the round and more to the cost and logistics of effective and constant training. While the FBI Executive Summary claims differently, the reality of actual bullet performance indicates their decision related more to the cost of larger ammunition and the more advanced and in-depth marksmanship training required to get effective use out of larger rounds.

Ultimately, based on the history of ammunition development and stories of smaller projectiles proving to be less effective, what the FBI really concluded was that the modern improvements to the 9mm made it good enough. While the FBI Executive Summary declares the 9mm is superior and that stopping power is a myth, they don’t adequately back that up.

The ammunition performances they cite, the lack of insight they provide into the administrative decision process for abandoning the.40 S&W, and the history of ammunition development and use over the last century-and-a-half should make all marksmen cautious of accepting the assertion that “stopping power is simply a myth.”

Personally, the FBI study and the new debate about stopping power it unleashed informed me more about what it is – but it doesn’t force me to conclude that I should dump the .40 S&W.

As an individual, I have very different considerations when compared to a large organization. How much time do I dedicate to training? How natural are my marksmanship skills? What gun works best for concealment or feels good in my hand (and what ammunition options are there for that gun)? What kind of gun/ammunition did I grow up shooting? Do I flinch or anticipate when shooting? Am I “recoil sensitive”? Do I anticipate the recoil or have sympathetic grip reflexes in response to the feeling that the gun might fly out of my hand?

The definitive conclusions of the FBI Study are that shot placement is the underlying factor in lethality. So yes, all of the above considerations have a more significant impact on stopping power than the size of the bullet. If, for whatever reason, I can’t shoot fast and accurately with the weapon and ammunition I’m currently using, then yes, switching to a 9mm,.380 ACP, or other smaller caliber would grant me more stopping power than I currently have.

But this doesn’t mean bullet size doesn’t matter. If I can put three rapid shots on top of each other at ten yards or more with my .40 S&W than I do have more stopping power than someone who can only do the same thing with a smaller round.

In case you were wondering, I’m still a .40 S&W guy. Constant self-assessment has led me to conclude that my skill is good enough to allow my original thought process to remain relevant. But I am much more aware of the necessity to maintain my marksmanship while carrying a larger round.


Justin Stapley is the Shooting Director for Spencer Durrant Outdoors, and a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.

Target Shooting and Wildfires

By Justin Stapley | Contributing Author

The threat of man-made wildfires has grown exponentially in recent years.  Millions of acres burn every year, and populated areas are increasingly endangered.  In response, many proposals have been made and policies put into place to mitigate the circumstances which can lead to the start of a wildfire.  One such proposition needing further consideration is the idea of banning target shooting on public lands. 

Many of these policies have demonstrated effectiveness, especially as the public becomes aware of the activities likely to lead to that dangerous first spark.  However, as with all reactions to pressing issues, some ideas demand further introspection to determine their likely effectiveness. 

While it may seem apparent that target shooting can present a clear risk for starting a man-made fire, that risk may be fundamentally misunderstood and compounded by misleading statistics. No argument can be made that shooting hasn’t resulted in a fair amount of man-made fires. However, a consideration of the details may frustrate a case for a wholesale ban. 

Generally, specific circumstances in the particular nature of shooting contribute to the fires; namely, the ammunition and targets used.  The most widely available and commonly used ammunition for target shooting is lead and copper-plated ammunition. Shot against a soft backstop at appropriate targets, these types of ammunition pose no serious fire threat. 

While any kind of metal striking a rock or other hard surface has the chance of sparking, lead and copper-plated ammunition has the same likelihood of starting a fire as a horseshoe hitting a rock on a horse-trail.

In contrast, less available and more expensive ammunition such as tracer rounds, incendiary, and steel-tip ammunition present a severe threat for sparking a fire.  The type of target is cause for concern as well.  Common paper targets, cans, bottles, and cardboard are unlikely to spark when shot with standard ammunition. 

Steel targets, exploding targets, or refuse targets with flammable materials (propane tanks, chemical containers, appliances, etc.) can create sparks or explosions due to the impact, and spark a fire.  In short, the greatest threat for causing a fire lies with specific choices in ammunition and targets and not with the general activity of target shooting.  

There is also a question as to the certainty of statistics released by government organizations related to the number of fires caused by target shooting.  Skeptics point to an interesting trend.  While wildfires blamed on cigarette smoking have significantly decreased in the last decade, blazes blamed on target shooting have increased. 

The possibility exists that target shooting has taken the place of cigarette smoking as the go-to scapegoat for wildfires of uncertain origin. According to the Phoenix New Times, a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that in 15 of 23 fires between 2009 and 2012 considered “target shooting correlated fires”, “…the only reason for the label of ‘target shooting correlated’ is because they started on or near a known target-shooting area and because almost all other causes for the fires were ruled out.” 

Several of the investigations stated a belief that target-shooting was the cause but that “no evidence collected.” At least in this small sample of investigations, the majority of “target shooting correlated fires” were labeled as such only through circumstantial evidence, at best.

Well-intentioned policies designed to solve a pressing problem should always be considered with serious preponderance.  However, the intentions themselves do not suggest good policy.  Target-shooting is an everyday activity in many rural areas and is ingrained in American culture both through rural and constitutional tradition. 

The feasibility of year-round bans on target-shooting in public lands is not even certain, given the low personnel and assets available to commit to such a law enforcement action.  The risks of target shooting could very much be overstated and at or below the level of other everyday recreational activities on public lands, such as ATV riding.

Those dangers could easily be mitigated by focusing attention on controlling the use of specific ammunition and targets in high-risk months.  A complete target shooting ban on public lands is unlikely to have a recognizable effect on decreasing wildfires and indeed would be a policy impossible to enforce.


Justin Stapley is a political writer whose principles and beliefs are grounded in the idea of ordered liberty as expressed in the traditions of classical liberalism, federalism, and modern conservatism. His writing has been featured at the Federalist Coalition, the NOQ Report, and Porter Medium. He lives in Bluffdale, Utah, with his wife and daughters.