Good Ol’ Boys

The talk of a South Texas quail hunt started in the summer of 2014. Years of arid weather had decimated the indigenous quail population, but a wet 2013 brought back habitat necessary for the game birds to successfully rebound. The Cage Ranch would be the target destination. Months of careful planning had 16 hunters heading to El Indio, Texas in January of 2015. Gate to Paradise

Day 1 – Arriving with Anticipation

Our flight into San Antonio landed in mid-afternoon. After touching down, the men picked up our three rented SUVs, and departed for the two and one half hour drive to the Ranch. It was dark, cold and damp when we met Bob at the main gate at around 7 pm. Everyone was pretty fired up to have arrived, and we were all ready to start hunting. We enjoyed a nice fajita dinner, then Colt, Tyler, Chance, Bob and I made an impromptu decision to do a little late night predator hunting. Armed with a Fox Pro game call, a spotlight and a Mossberg MMR Hunter, we made our way down a farm road in order to locate the appropriate place to set up. When we had a 360 degree perspective, we turned the truck off and started to call. Colt ran the spotlight, and I manned the rifle. It did not take long for the first coyote to appear, and move straight down the road toward us. Colt asked me multiple times if I saw dog, but I could not pick up the movement in my scope. As the coyote crested a hill in the road, two red eyes became very visible. I positioned myself on the truck bed, and attempted to get into a stable position. Once the coyote exposed his right side, I slowly squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. Panicked, I pulled the charging handle back, and peered down the action. The round was lodged in the upper receiver, and was not going anywhere. I did not need to pick my head up to understand that the coyote had bolted from the scene. Everyone was disappointed by none more bummed than me. I managed to get the unfired shell out of the action, only to see that the firing pin actually hit the round. With my confidence down, we made our way to another spot. Chance slowed down as we approached a cattle guard. Colt confirmed that the area was ideal so we stopped. Bob warned Tyler that we were parked on a cattle guard. As I stepped on the guard with my left foot, I slipped and fell through the iron bars. My Mossberg MMR Hunter and Leopold FX-II scope went flying. Outside of my pride, my knees, wrists and shins were hurting. It took me a few minutes to regain my composure. Colt grabbed the call, the spotlight, and told me to get ready. A constant ten minutes of the lightening jack call did not produce a stalking predator. Colt cycled to the whitetail/doe fawn distress then hit the light. I glanced to my right, saw a big coyote coming in hard. I immediately picked him up in my cross-hairs, and squeezed off a round. The slight recoil in pitch dark conditions caused me to lose sight of the animal. Colt thought my shot was successful so we drove out to the spot where he would have fallen. Fifteen minutes of searching produced nothing so we plodded along. It was close to 1 am, and we made a decision to make one last set. The lightening jack call was only on for about five minutes, when we picked up the coyote at one hundred yards to the left of the truck. The dog quickly weaved in and out of cover, trying to pick up the scent of the injured bunny while moving into a stiff wind. The animal stopped at about one hundred yards, but I could not pick him up in the spotlight. We lost him completely after he picked up our scent at about seventy five yards. Disappointed by my inability to execute, we headed back to camp in order to get some much needed sleep.

Qual Rig Day Ross, Matt, Scott, Jeff, Tony

Day 2 – Relaxation

The three quail rigs arrived at 7:30 am. We were all moving a bit slowly after a late night of excess libations. The group devoured homemade burritos, while ensuring we awakened with the appropriate injection of coffee. The weather was cold (35 degrees) and wet. I had packed warm clothing, but not enough to protect myself from the nasty, unexpected wind chill. Quail rigs are outfitted with dog kennels, shotgun racks, drink holders, but you’re exposed to the elements. My unfettered excitement mitigated the impact of the freezing temperatures. Our guide, Darrell Layman, ran 14 dogs that included German Shorthaired Pointers, English pointers and 1 Labrador retriever. The pointing dogs worked about 100 yards around the truck quartering into the wind as they searched for quail scent. Darrell slowly drove the two track, staring at his GPS. Suddenly we heard him yell “a dog is on point about 125 yards to the west”. We piled out of the truck, loaded our shotguns, and moved towards the stationary dog. This was our first experience in thick, South Texas cover. The group’s walk turned into a sprint when Darrell told us Bubby was on the move. Every bush, plant and tree seemed to rip at my legs, arms and torso. While it did not deter my focus, the two inch thorns hurt. As we approached a clearing, I realized I was looking into the face of a big, black pig. Startled at 50 feet in front of me, he took a hard right, and bounded toward Jeff. I yelled “pig” as he made his way into the deep grass.

Darrell called us back to the truck when the scent diminished. He stated, “Blues run. They take the dogs on a ride. We need to find some Bobs”. We chased blues for the next 90 minutes, but did not force a bird into the air. Frustrated, I started to contemplate the movements of the evasive animals. It became obvious that once the dogs went on point, the covey was already stirring. With that in mind, I decided I would sprint to a flanking position, with the hope that a flush would result from the pressure of the dogs and me. As we continued to patrol the road, one dog went on point 30 yards ahead of us, and just off the road. I jumped off the top of the truck with my Weatherby SA-O8 Deluxe 28 gauge in my left hand, a shell in my right and two in my mouth. I started to run straight into the cover, keeping my eyes on the GSP stationed to my left. The covey flushed 20 yards in front of me, so I selected one bird, and squeezed the trigger. Shot number one missed behind the bird, but my follow up shell crushed the quail as he neared a mesquite tree. Darrell brought his lab in so he could hunt dead. Minutes later, we found the blue quail, and I did a quiet celebration; my first Texas quail was in the bag. We moved 4 more coveys before heading in for lunch. Most of the guys took at least one bird, with some getting a couple.

We attacked the homemade steak fajitas that had been prepared for us. As we were the first truck to come in for food, we awaited the arrival of the rest of the group. Unlike our gang, the rest of the crew did not experience the same in-field action. We discussed strategies before heading back out for the afternoon hunt. Midday did not produce the same findings as the morning had. The weather was warming, and we were all anticipating the late afternoon “golden hour”. Similar to pheasants, quail start to reveal themselves as the sun begins to set. They move toward the road in order to feed on seeds, and small rocks that aid in their digestion. This movement provides the hunter an opportunity to more easily locate the elusive prey. Understanding the near-term opportunity, we drove towards fertile ground just after 3 pm. It not take long for the dogs to discover birds, and for the hunters to knock a few out of the sky. We were in and out of the truck often, as coveys of quail seemed to be everywhere. One particular stalk was memorable for me. Darrell announced that both dogs were on point about 50 yards from our position. We all moved quickly into the woody, gnarly cover towards the stationary dogs. The covey jumped from their hidden position, and flew low to the west. It happened so quickly, the hunters did not get an opportunity to take a shot. We watched the quail land about 80 yards from our position, so we started to sprint with the excited dogs. As we approached some incredibly dense cover, the covey flew again. Three birds soared high and to my right. I locked in on the last bird and pulled the trigger of my shotgun. I watched the leg of the quail collapse, and he plummeted into the mesquite trees. Darrell brought the lab in, and Tony offered to help me search for the downed bird. About 15 minutes later, Tony noticed feathers at the base of a tree. We recovered my first Texas bobwhite quail!

The Boys, Ready to Hunt

Day 3 – Into the Groove

Given Darrell’s day 2 success, we decided to run the second quail rig behind Darrell’s ATV. Some of our guys did not get into a lot of birds due to an ill prepared guide. To that point, we decided that all 11 of us would hunt together. As the dogs exposed coveys, we would alternate hunters. The morning temperature was warm, and so was the pursuit. Dogs found birds almost immediately. The morning action was steady, but we were not getting shots at the running blue quail.   As we approached a new road, Darrell made the proclamation that the dogs were locked up. My group was up so we scrambled out of the ATV, and into the cover. I began my sprint as I thought I could once again cut off the scurrying covey. As I passed one GSP on point, I glanced into the trees in front of him to determine if the birds were attempting discretion. Almost immediately, I heard the covey take flight….behind me. I pivoted left, and watched the birds move to my right at about 20 yards. I picked a bird out, mounted my shotgun and quickly fired. The first shell made fatal impact, and the bird dropped into an open area. We found 5 more coveys before the day got warm, then the birds suddenly disappeared.

We had another delicious lunch awaiting us at camp. After scarfing down some steaks, we started to make an afternoon plan. A few of us noticed a significant amount of ducks in the many water tanks around the ranch. We decided to drive to each tank, and attempt to jump-shoot some waterfowl. Chad, Darren, Tony and I jumped into Ford’s quail rig, and made our way to the first waterhole. From 500 yards away, we could see about 25 ducks on the water. The plan was to sneak down towards the water staying camouflaged by the many trees. Once we got within 100 yards of the bank, Ford would drive over tank dam, and spook the ducks. With the strategy solidified, all of us loaded up and moved cautiously down the tree line. Once we all were in position, Ford drove slowly down the top of the dam. As expected, the ducks all took off, and flew high into the bright sky. Minutes later they circled around, and started to descend back into the pond. Many of the ducks took a flight path right over the set of trees we were sitting under.   Chad slipped from his concealed position, and took the first duck in the group. The rest of us followed his lead, and shot the low flying birds. Given our immediate success, we made our way to a few other water tanks, and employed the same technique. With ducks in hand, we made our way back to camp to join the rest of the group for the late afternoon quail hunt. The group made a collective decision to hunt around the many deer feeders that are situated around the ranch. Most of the units were still loaded up with corn, so we knew that quail would head in that direction as the “golden hour” approached. Running two trucks in tandem, 11 of us made our way to wherever we saw a deer blind. As the afternoon progressed, the dog found birds. We were able to convert more of our shots as we became accustomed to the bird’s behaviors. Late in the day we made our way to a feeder we had not hunted yet. While we were picking off doves as they moved in waves off nearby mesquite trees, two of Darrell’s dogs went on point just yards from our position. Chad was the first to make his way into the brush, followed by Matt and me. A covey of bobwhites took off from the waste-high grass. I did not have a clear shot, but Chad did, and smoked a single bird. We continued to pursue the quail, but they quickly scattered to parts unknown.  The sun was setting, and all of us realized our quail hunt was over.

Once the group finished dinner, decisions were made on who would be hunting what at night. I was a bit exhausted, and a few beers in front of the television sounded just fine. Tony, Darren and Jeremy decided to patrol the grounds, and look for a pig. Tony had lugged a big cooler to Texas, with the hope that he would fill it. At about 10 pm, my mobile phone rang. It was Tony, and they had taken a boar! Once they got back to the compound, the guys executed a flawless field dressing utilizing the gutless method. Tony and Darren had secured their meat.Pig
Ross with first Bobwhite

Day 4 – Heading Home

Most of the guys had an early afternoon flight back to Denver. To that point, they were up early and out the door. Some of us scheduled a late flight back home, so we decided to do some early morning hunting. Tyler had a doe tag that he wanted to fill. He had sat patiently in a few blinds on the prior day, but was not able to close the deal on a deer. He asked me to join him early Sunday morning on our final day in the field. At 6 am we made our way into the blind, and waited for shooting light. As the sunrise exposed the feeder, we watched two bucks start to eat. A third buck ventured in but no does appeared. We waited another 2 hours before Adam picked us up in order to head back to camp. Expedited packing commenced, and we loaded up the trucks for the 2.5 hour trip back to San Antonio.

The South Texas quail was a spectacular experience for everyone who participated. We got to see dogs expertly work brushy, gnarly thickets, forcing both quail to appear against their will. All of us were able to connect on at least one bird, while others put a few more in the bag. We enjoyed great meals, good beer, tasty cigars and a lot of laughs. Planning for the 2016 South Texas quail hunt at the Cage Ranch has already begun.

Video of the South Texas Quail Hunt


Things to Consider Necessary Information Comments
Quail Guide Darrell Laymen – 7343 CR 3000 Pearsall, TX 78061 – (573) 820-1729 Darrell knows how to find wild birds. He is a gundog expert, and a lot of fun to be around.
Weatherby SA-08 28-Gauge Deluxe Great shotgun. This is my first Weatherby, and I was pleasantly surprised with the performance.   If you can find one, buy one.
Mossberg MMR Hunter Sold at reasonable price and reliable. I enjoy shooting this AR.
Leupold FX II After smashing the scope on a cattle guard, the gun was still was accurate at a 100 yards. I shouldn’t have been surprised as it’s a Leupold.

Tracking Quail in Colorado

Gary, Yonder and our QuailThe flu hit me for the 4th December in a row. My son Jesse caught the virus first, followed by me, then my oldest son Ty. The symptoms include severe bronchial congestion, a mucus-filled nose and a high fever for multiple days. Ultimately, bed rest was the only antidote. My fever broke on Sunday afternoon, which gave me hope for a Monday hunt with my friend, Gary Ruppel. A week prior, we planned a quail hunt on Bob’s ranch, and I wanted to make it happen.

I needed the alarm to get me going at 4:30 am. A Mucinex pill as well as a few puffs from my Ventolin inhaler, had my lungs feeling manageable. We had some wet snow fall overnight, and that had turned the roads icy. I took my time on the drive to Gary’s house. An additional 90 minutes had us pulling into Wild Horse around 8 am.

During my big game hunts at the ranch over the fall, I witnessed 4 separate coveys of scaled quail on the land. The numbers in each covey are impressive; holding greater than 30 birds per family group. Moving into the property, I directed Gary to the cottonwood trees that are situated southwest of headquarters. We parked the truck and let Gary’s English Pointers out. Captain, Ashley and Yonder began to work out about 100 yards, then angle back into the stiff northwest wind. They cover a lot of ground in a very short period of time. As we neared a fallen tree, a large covey suddenly scattered in all different directions. The majority of the birds headed to the southwest so we took the dogs in that direction. Our collective pressure forced some the quail into, and around a lone cottonwood tree. Captain locked up on point when the bird’s sent became strongest. One quail jumped from a branch and flew with speed to the east. Just before he was out of range, I sent a single shot from my Weatherby 28 gauge in his direction. The scalie tumbled to the ground. Gary’s dogs were able to quickly locate the injured bird, allowing us to continue to hunt.

We jumped into the truck and headed back to headquarters. There is a lot of structure around the periphery of the compound, and quail were holding up in the thick cover. We decided to leave the dogs in the truck, and see if we could move the covey on our own. We walked to the most obvious spot: a large set of long, metal poles piled about three feet high.   As we approached the stack of iron, the quail started to emerge from their hiding spot. When we got to about 20 yards, they exploded in multiple directions. I missed on my first two easy shots, but managed to connect on the final bird. We let the dogs out so they could do their job. Captain, Ashley and Yonder got on the birds quickly, pointing and pinning the evading quail. It did not take us long to take one half a dozen birds.

We drove to the pasture just across the highway. Just past the gate there is a water tank, and most of the bulls were drinking from it. A windmill marks an area where I had witnessed a covey sheltered amongst a set of cement cylinders. Still 100 yards from the windmill, we stopped the truck to scout the area. Almost as soon as we had stopped the truck, a large covey began teaming out of their concrete protection. We watched them fly southwest, and land over the adjoining hill. We decided to get the dogs out and pursue them. As we crested the hill, Captain, Ashley and Yonder went on point, but the covey flushed wild. They moved north toward the dry creek, and touched down near some abandoned cars. Realizing the quail were taking shelter amongst the broken down automobiles, we headed in that direction. As we approached the vehicles, the dogs locked up quickly, and the action was immediate. Birds started soaring in all directions. I did not shoot as I hoped there were hidden birds that had yet to take flight. Many of the quail had landed in the field just off the creek. We called the dogs over, and directed them to hunt west; into the prevailing wind. Gary and I walked about 20 yards apart, waiting for signs that the quail were present. Similar to a flushing pheasant, individual scalies took flight when they felt pressure caused by our pursuit. Gary and I took these single birds when the shots presented themselves. We hunted our way back to the truck, but only witnessed a few additional quail taking flight too far from the barrels of our shotguns.

I will leave the Cage Ranch quail alone until next hunting season. Hopefully, we will enjoy additional moisture in Colorado that will sustain healthy broods next year.

My Video of a December 2014 Quail Hunt on the Cage Ranch




Upland bird hunting is about the dogs, the landscape, the pursuit, and the friendship. The birds have had a rough go of it over the last couple of years. The drought across the west has decimated habitat required for the species’ survival. Recent moisture in Colorado has brought back some of the vegetation that had been nonexistent in 2013. It will take a few more years before we see the bird population recuperate.

Realizing the hunting would be challenging in Colorado, my friends and I decided to spend our annual upland hunting trip in McCook, Nebraska. Bird reports throughout the fall were positive, and we were willing to make the longer drive out of state in order to get some more opportunities.

Day 1

I picked up my friend Jeremy and his Brittany, Kessler early Friday morning. The plan was to hunt the day in Colorado, and make our way to Nebraska after sundown. The drive to bird country is always filled with anticipation. When you pass a shelterbelt or a grain elevator, you scan the ground for any sign of life. The first turn onto a county road, makes the heart begin to race as you realize you’re minutes away from entering the first field. My dog, Pride, is 11 years old and I realize his days as my hunting partner are numbered. I was apprehensive since our 2013 season ended with my carrying an injured Pride to the truck. Our first spot is a WIA where I try to start every trip. Picked corn fields abut lush CRP on all four sides. There is a long, pronounced draw perpendicular to a deep ditch filled with tumbleweeds.   A hard, cold, and consistent wind blew from the west. This would allow a stealthy approach to the area where the cover thickens. As we neared the historically prime area, I moved north with Pride, allowing Jeremy and Kessler to man the southern flank. The plan was to pinch the middle and hope any birds flushed close. Unlike last season, the weeds are tall and the grass was dense. As I walked the edge of the draw a rooster busted, and started to fly into the corn. Startled, my first shot missed badly, but the second HEVI-Shot shell shattered the bird’s right wing. I fired a third time and the bird dropped to the ground. Pride was already running around the corn stalks, searching for the downed bird. He was struggling, so I joined in the search. It took us almost ½ an hour to locate the lifeless pheasant.


Our second stop would be at a small field containing an old, empty home and other interesting structure. Foolishly, I pulled my truck just across the road from the entrance. Despite our efforts to work silently, three roosters flushed as we loaded our shotguns. My shoulders sagged when I realized I made a rookie mistake. I brought Pride up through the middle of the field, and Jeremy worked Kessler on the northern edge. As I reached the adjoining corn, I moved quickly towards Jeremy when a rooster flushed from the deep grass. I shot the bird at 15 yards, then another rooster jumped at 25 yards. My follow up HEVI-Shot shell knocked him down as well. Pride went to locate the first bird, and Kessler grabbed the second in the corn field. I boastfully exclaimed “my day is done”. Despite my proclamation, we could not locate the initial pheasant after an extensive, and ultimately disappointing search.

Jeremy, Bob and I hunted both public and private lands throughout the afternoon. We saw a lot of hens and a few more roosters. Unfortunately, no shots were fired.

Day 2

All of the guys were ready to hunt Nebraska early. Thanks to a detailed conversation with Pheasants Forever’s Bob St. Pierre the night before, we had 5 Walk in Areas that we would hunt throughout the day. The morning was a cold 20 degrees, and the wind was not a factor. It was opening day of Nebraska’s rifle deer season, so the county roads were filled with trucks trying to spot a whitetail or muley.  Our efforts resulted in very little action. We did see 5 roosters and a hen moving from private land to public. The 60 minute stalk of those birds only had a single hen take flight. We worked a few other fields, but failed to produce any results. Some lunch, a few beers and we got ready for the afternoon hunt. It was almost 3 pm, and the golden hour was fast approaching. We drove for a while before locating a large CRP field. I left an exhausted Pride in the motel room, so I was hunting over Jeremy’s dog, Kessler. As I approached a plum thicket a covey of bobwhite exploded from the gnarly tree line. Startled, I fired three quick rounds at the evading birds. The action was so fast and furious that I could not be certain if I had made fatal contact with the quail. Minutes later, I turned to my left to see Kessler on point about 60 yards away. Moving hastily, we charged toward the Brittany when the covey flushed. Three quail moved to our right, and I took the first one at about twenty yards. The second was lined up, but when I pulled the trigger, the gun did not fire. Angrily, I stared at the chamber of my Beretta A400 XPLOR Light. The bolt failed to cycle, thus rendering the weapon useless. I am confident with this shotgun, but all of a sudden I was a bit anxious. While I was upset about the shotgun malfunction, I was pretty excited to have shot my first bobwhite. As we approached the trucks, the rest of the guys told me that they wanted to hunt an area northeast of our position. It took less than 10 minutes to reach the public access, but we were running out of daylight. We lined up with the dogs and moved into the wind. Otis suddenly became obviously birdy. He was chasing a pheasant so we all started to jog. I was walked the edge of the field, actually traveling through the scattered corn remnants. Our relentless pressure forced the running rooster into the air. He flew low and left, presenting me with an easy right to left crossing shot. My first shell missed behind him, and I when I went to press the trigger for the follow up shot, my shotgun jammed again. I shouted in anger as the unscathed bird sailed to the south. A few humiliating “no bird” calls had the dogs all back working the last 250 yards of the field. It did not take them long to force up another rooster that narrowly escaped a flurry of shotgun blasts. We all gathered to discuss our approach to the eastern edge of the field. Shooting light was diminishing, and we knew we needed to pick up the pace if we were to make it back to the trucks before complete darkness.  Chad and Jeff scaled the backside of a ditch in order to get a better vantage point of our area. I decided to climb up the hill as well. As soon as I stood up I yelled “rooster” as a pheasant glided in about 30 yards in front of us. Chad and Jeff turned and fired at the floating bird. The first shots missed, but Chad’s follow up round hit its mark. We did not have a dog near our specific position, so we both sprinted to see if we could locate the downed bird. Amazingly, I guessed correctly, and recovered the mortally wounded bird under some brush. It became dark quickly, and the cover was thick, so seeing my friends was difficult. To that point, I made the decision to move directly to the trucks. Without a dog, I did not anticipate locating a bird in the heavy cover. I had just flipped my shotgun over my shoulder when a rooster busted from his concealed position just 10 yards in front of me. Shocked, I managed to get my A400 into a shooting position, and took aim. The first shot was poor, and missed behind and to the right. Unfortunately, the second and third shots also missed. While I was bummed out at my failure to execute, I was thankful that my Beretta fired three successive times.


Day 3

The early morning of our final day had the crew heading to a public field a Nebraska Game Warden recommended. As we drove north, I looked left as we passed the corner of the large CRP field. There is a long and deep draw that moved to the west. Small trees and deep brush lined both sides of the draw. The cover looked ideal so I drove 500 yards past and pulled over. I told the guys to enter the field from the north, while Jeremy and I would double back, and work the land from the south. Once we saw the men and their dogs move into the field, we allowed Pride and Kessler to move ahead of us toward the shallow valley. Suddenly, shots erupted from the north. I watched an evading rooster take the full impact of a HEVI-Shot shell, and tumble out of the sky. Seconds later, another rooster took flight aiming to make it across the ravine in my direction. I re-positioned my feet in order to solidify my balance, while tracking the bird with the barrel of my shotgun. Moving at about 30 yards from my right, I squeezed off a round, and the pheasant dropped to the ground. Pride, already at the base of the gully, sprinted up the hill toward the fallen bird. We were able to make an easy retrieve, and celebrate our success. Upon inspection, the rooster had a red band on his left leg indicating he was a part of a Nebraska Game & Parks study on pheasant behavior and needs. Excited with the early action, I sprinted in the direction of my friends in order to see their birds. When I arrived, Dave told me that they could not locate the bird he had shot. I told Pride to hunt dead, and we began the search in the dense thicket. I witnessed the bird summersault out of the sky so I was confident we were searching in the right area. We put all five dogs on the one hour job, but failed to locate the rooster. Disappointed, we gathered back at the truck to determine the plan. Bob also had success in that field, and revealed that his rooster had a gold band that was worth $100!


We decided to head to Colorado, to see if we could hunt my buddy’s property in Holyoke. Dusty and I connected on the phone, and he provided me the coordinates to his land.  He described 4 distinct pivots south of a specific county road. As I approached what I believed was his land, I pulled over in order to formulate a strategy with the guys. Pinching a pivot can be very effective with 8 guns and 5 dogs. We surrounded the CRP, and marched inward toward the attractive shelterbelt. As we neared the middle, hens started to rise. Unacceptably, we had left a gap in our southeastern flank, and two roosters bolted unharmed. wpid-img_323293908030.jpeg

Realizing our mistake, we ensured the appropriate coverage on the next pivot. As we walked to the middle, hens began to fly. Once we all were within 50 yards of one another, a lone rooster exploded from the tall grass. He was subsequently hit with barrage of rounds, and was dead before he hit the ground.

As we were deciding on our approach to the next pivot, Dusty called my mobile phone to check in. He was making his way to our location, but could not see us. It did not take us long to realize we were hunting his neighbor’s land. A bit embarrassed, we jumped in our trucks and headed to meet Dusty. We were given a tour of the property, and given permission to hunt anywhere we wanted. We passed a wheat stubble field that had accumulated a significant amount of cover running along the edge. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw Chad out of his truck taking shots at evading birds. Realizing this location could be a special, I picked up speed, and headed to the end of the field. Greg, Scott, Jeremy and I all jumped out and walked east as the others walked west. The dogs weaved their way along the 10 yard strip of tumble weeds and assorted grasses. As we neared the middle, a rooster jumped and flew south with a strong wind at his back. Avoiding the center pivot irrigation machine, I took aim and fired. The pheasant dropped immediately to the ground. After an easy retrieval, we made the trek back to the truck, and headed home. I made a final stop at the home of my rancher friend, and handed him a case of Bud.

The initial foray into pheasant country is always full of anticipation and promise. All of us knew that the hunting would be challenging, but we were prepared to work hard to find birds. We were able to locate pheasants, and even knock some down. I will venture east with Pride a few more times over the next couple of months. My gundog is showing his age, and hunting all day just isn’t in the cards anymore. Hopefully, we will have some memorable moments before season’s end.


Equipment Type Comments
Shotgun Beretta A400 Xplor Light Talked to Beretta and my gunsmith – I over lubricated the weapon. My bad.
Shells HEVI-SHOT Other shells get more press. None are more effective than HEVI-SHOT.
E-Collar SportDOG UplandHunter 1875 Works flawlessly.
Pack Badlands Birdvest I have yet to find a better pack.   They need to adjust the shell holders. 12 gauge shells don’t fit correctly.



Not This Year

In July, I found out that I drew an antlered deer tag for the Cage Ranch. Almost immediately, I started to envision a big buck making the fatal mistake of walking into my crosshairs. Where on the creek would I hunt? Would I pursue the deer from a stand or on the ground? What new equipment would I need? What is the longest shot I am comfortable taking? Preparation would be critical if I was going to successfully execute in 2014.

In early September, Bob and I set up stands and a trail camera in a seemingly prime spot just off the dry creek. We used the flatbed truck and a heavy chain to tear down two big limbs that prohibited a clean line of sight to the left/right of the shooting platform.  Once the job was complete, we took a few doves that were buzzing through the trees.

The trail camera pictures over the next six weeks were revealing. The photographs displayed numerous bucks frequently patrolling the area that I would eventually hunt. Some of the deer had large bodies and displayed magnificent racks. In 2013, I took a respectable 113 inch, 5×5 3 ½ year old muley. Many of the deer we were looking at were larger and that was exciting.

At noon October 24th, I started my two hour journey to the ranch. Bob informed me that some personal reasons would prohibit him from joining me on my hunt.   Admittedly, I was a bit anxious as Bob has been mentoring me over the last few years. His big game tutelage has been essential in transforming me into a better sportsman. Furthermore, Bob is a good guy and I would miss the friendship.

The ride to the ranch allowed me to think out my strategy for the weekend. The weather forecast promised highs in the upper eighties. These were unseasonably warm temperatures for eastern Colorado. I theorized the heat would have deer moving when it was dark, and bedding down only a short time after the sun rose. To that point, I would be in my stand before 5:00 am and wait. If I did not have a positive encounter, I would walk the Shipping Trap pasture and employ a spot/stalk approach.

When I arrived at the ranch, I immediately drove to my trail camera to review the pictures taken over the last three weeks. Sitting in my running truck, I opened the files. Unlike the September pictures, there were only two photographs taken. One picture was that of a young buck moving at dawn, and the other of a coyote. I was not discouraged or deterred, and was committed to my plan.

Day 1

The excitement of the forthcoming day had me up and ready to go at 3:00 am. I was by myself and that provided me the freedom to quickly have my coffee, and make my final preparations to head to the creek. The walk from the pasture gate to the creek was one mile, and my Garmin GPS loaded with onXmaps, guided me to the stand. The temperature was forty two degrees, and my pace along with my Under Armour Ridge Reaper clothing kept me warm.  Once in the stand, I removed my Badlands Stealth pack and took out the essential equipment that included my Vortex Diamondback binoculars and my Leupold RX-1000i TBR rangefinder. Despite the bright stars in the sky, I could not see much of anything. At about 6:15 am, I thought I picked up movement near the trees in front of me. Putting my binoculars to my eyes, I observed a big bodied deer at fifty yards moving east. He actually slowed down when he got to my right, and methodically turned toward my position. Because he was so close, I was able to hone in on his rack. He was a symmetrical 5×5, with wide main beams and prominent eye guards. He was absolutely bigger than the deer I shot last season. I contemplated if he was what I was looking for this year. It was 6:40 am and the legal shooting time was minutes away. The buck moved back to the southwest actually walking twenty two yards in front of me; exposing his entire left flank. I gripped my Tikka T3 Lite, but did not chamber a round. I watched the deer plod along, eventually disappearing in the high grass beyond the property line. I immediately second guessed my decision to let him go, but hoped I would be rewarded with a bigger animal.

Later in the morning, I witnessed a small buck quickly moving north as well as a few does making their way to the adjacent property. At 9:00 am, the temperature was seventy eight degrees, and my gut told me the deer had stopped moving. I got out of the stand and prepared to conduct a systematic spot/stalk strategy. From my position, the Shipping Trap pasture extends two miles to the northeast. The dense tree line would provide me the necessary cover to keep a low profile as I glassed every fifty yards. As I approached the last ¼ mile, I made my way across the creek. An unfavorable wind had picked up, and I was afraid it would reveal my position to any deer in the vicinity. Realizing I was making noise due to the dry tumbleweeds I was stepping on, I decided to stop and glass. A doe popped up and looked back at me at about one hundred and twenty five yards. She was joined by a small buck with ½ his rack missing. They both simultaneously turned away from me, and headed toward the east end of the property. I waited a few minutes to see if they had company, but there was no movement. As I approached the next clearing, three does jumped to their feet at thirty yards. A magnificent buck then unfolded from the tall grass and stood staring right at me. All of the blood in my body rushed to my head as I dropped to my knee, put my rifle in my bipod and chambered a round. While I was attempting to engage, four additional does rose up, and immediately ran to the west. The buck quickly followed them. I put my crosshairs on him at about seventy five yards, but he was so fast I was unable to make an ethical shot. I sat down to collect myself, and watched the three original does follow the rest of the herd to the west. Realizing I was ill prepared for that type of encounter, I began to curse myself for not having a round chambered. I am confident with my Tikka, and I know I could have pulled an accurate freehand shot at thirty yards. I stared my buck in the eyes, and failed to execute on a phenomenal opportunity.

I made my way back to the stand at 3:00 pm. With temperatures nearing ninety degrees, I was not hopeful for the late afternoon hunt. I stayed with it until dark, but did not witness a single deer.

Day 2

I was absolutely amped for the morning hunt. The daytime temperature would force the deer to be on the move early in the morning. If I was to have a chance at a big buck, it would have to come at first light. At 6:00 am, even though it was very dark out, I started to frequently glass my surroundings. At about ten after, I picked up a big deer at about eighty yards moving quickly to the west. He was a buck but I could not determine the rack size, and he was not sticking around. At about 6:45 am, I was able to clearly see my surroundings. Kneeling on my stand, I looked straight behind the platform to the south. I saw some slight movement and witnessed a lone buck feeding in the grass. My Leupold rangefinder had him at one hundred and fifty yards, and I put my binoculars on him to get an idea of size. He was another 5×5, but was smaller than the one I passed up Saturday morning. While his size was disappointing, I was excited at the early action. I spent the next hour watching two bucks and three does feeding in the neighbors pasture. They were too far to estimate their size, but I would have liked to see them up close. A lone doe ran down the middle of the creek heading west so I prepared for additional deer but it did not happen. Minutes before I was going to exit the stand, I picked up movement in the trees to my east. It was a young buck making his way right to me. I snapped a couple of pictures when he was just twenty feet away.

My late morning stalk had me taking an alternate route to the clearing where I saw the big stud and his ladies. Unfortunately, they picked me up early and scattered before I could get a clean look. I still pursued them, but they seemingly disappeared on me. The temperature was in the upper eighties and I realized that any chance of success would have to come late Sunday. To that point, I laid out a plan for the late afternoon hunt. I would bisect the pasture and glass for activity. With a little luck, I would spot a buck and then begin my pursuit. I sat on a hill that provides a great vantage point of the Shipping Trap pasture and started to glass the area. Admittedly my patience is limited, so I decided to see if I could create movement by moving myself. Three hours of walking brought me to the realization that I would not take a deer in 2014.

Whether you are hunting or fishing, all you ask for is an opportunity. That occurred Saturday at about 10:15 am. Unfortunately, my inexperience negated my chance in achieving the stated goal. The ride home was filled with vivid memories of a fantastic hunting weekend at the Cage Ranch. Like any competitor, I wish for a future encounter with the buck that managed to evade me.

Deer on the trail camera.
Deer on the trail camera.
Big Deer 2014 Color
Deer I passed up.

It’s about the Friendship

About ten days before opening day of pronghorn rifle season, Bob told me that a couple of his hunters had not redeemed their landowner vouchers. He asked me if I would like to exchange one of the vouchers for a tag, and hunt opening day weekend. Realizing that his question was rhetorical, I started my preparation for the unanticipated adventure to his ranch. Our friends, Dave and Chad, had tags of their own, and they were equally as excited to pursue the elusive “speed goat”.

Opening day coincided with both of my sons’ state soccer tournament. To that point, my departure from Parker would come in the early evening on Saturday. During the boys’ soccer games, I received regular texts of videos of Bob and Chad’s hunt. Having personally taken part in similar stalks last season, I became anxious, even though I was 130 miles from the ranch.

The early evening drive to the eastern plains was interrupted by a flurry of text messages. After pulling over to fill up the tank on my Ram 1500, I read the texts. Chad had taken an enormous pronghorn buck! I was so excited, I stopped filling up the tank jumped in my truck, and rocketed down route 86.

Upon arriving in pronghorn camp, stories of the day’s events unfolded. Bob and Chad described multiple pursuits throughout the morning that resulted in fleeing animals. Finally, late in the afternoon, they were able to get on a herd of goats that contained a big buck. The chase pushed the group of pronghorn to the edge of Chad’s shooting comfort range. Setting up at about a three hundred and twenty yards, Chad was able to knock down the animal with a shot from his 7mm Mag. The reminiscing continued until complete exhaustion forced us all into our beds.

The game plan in the morning centered on getting Dave on his first big game animal. He worked on sighting in his new Tikka T3 Lite late in the afternoon on Saturday.   He even was able to chase a few animals prior to the hunting day concluding. I was excited to help Dave get on a buck. At first light, I ventured to the range with Chad in order to ensure I was still shooting my Tikka T3 Lite 30-06 accurately. It only took four rounds to reassure me that my rifle, and Bushnell Elite scope were operating flawlessly.

At about 7 am we all grabbed our coffee and piled into Bob’s truck. It did not take long to spot a few pronghorn making their way east. A few minutes of glassing confirmed that the male was young and we would not pursue him. We worked hard to spot and stalk a few amazing bucks throughout the day. Unfortunately, we could not close the deal on a pronghorn with antlers. At about 4 pm, Dave declared he wanted to take a break, and directed me to take part in the next hunt. The day’s events already had my blood racing through my veins. With the rifle now in my hands, I got focused on the task at hand.

Bob’s brother-in-law, Brent, reported that he spotted a large group of pronghorn just to the southwest of headquarters. We were driving east when we spotted eight females about 100 yards off the road. They immediately picked their heads up and gazed at us. We realized that the buck was not present but was probably close by. As we continued to drive east, we saw the big buck about 150 yards away on a hill. He was chasing off a young male when we startled him. We stared at one another for about five minutes until he moved speedily off the hill in order to round up his ladies. There is a draw that moves to the south, and we assumed the herd was moving away from us. Protected by a number of hills on the back side of the depression, Bob and I jogged to where we last saw the buck. Realizing they were gone, we looked at one another and pointed to the east. With my rifle in my right hand, and my BOG-POD in my left, I started to sprint, using the ridge as cover. At about the five hundred yard mark, I was able to discreetly glance at the herd. I did not have my range finder, but I guessed they were 300 yards ahead of me. Acknowledging the distance was out of my range, I sprinted to the top of the next ridge. As I approached the crest, I attempted to slow my breathing. The adrenaline was flowing but I felt composed. I knew the shot would be far so I cranked up the power of my scope. I inched forward trying to be quiet. With the rifle already in the bipod, I took a knee, and quickly captured the buck in my crosshairs at about two hundred yards. I could see a few of the females turn, look up and take notice of my presence on top of the hill. To that point, I knew I had to act with purpose. As the buck moved left, he exposed his left shoulder, and I took the shot. The Barnes VOR-TX 168 grain bullet entered just below the neck and dropped him to the ground.   I shouted with elation as I knew I had accomplished my objective. We made our way down the hill and congratulated one another. My successful hunt was the result of a total team effort. I thanked everyone for their help, and told them to get in the truck in order to find a buck for Dave.

Just before they departed, Bob gave me a quick gutting refresher. This pronghorn was only my third big game animal, so my cleaning techniques are rudimentary at best. It took me about forty five minutes to finish the process, and get him hung in the barn. I asked my friend John to drive me back to the boys so I could participate in Dave’s search for his animal. We managed to find a few sizable pronghorn, but could not complete the harvest.

As we sat on the tailgate of Bob’s truck, we admired the full moon overhead. The sun had dipped, but the air temperature was still in the 60s. Bob stated that this was his favorite time on the ranch. I understood why. While Dave was visibly disappointed, he recognized that the quest had been invigorating for his soul. He is committed to getting back into the field, and finishing the job next season.

Equipment Used

Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf