Rookie

Hunting is difficult. For people who were not born into a hunting family, or had a mentor early in life, there are many challenges associated with taking up the sport. Despite the fact that I started hunting in my 40s, I have been able to learn quickly because of patient and thoughtful friends. It is now time to pay it forward.

DJ and I met freshmen year of high school, and became great friends. We don’t get to spend much time together as he lives in Florida with his family.  Our lives have fundamentally changed over the last 35 years, but our bond has never lapsed.  Over the last couple of years, DJ has expressed a real interest in hunting.  To that point, I invited him to spend a few days with Echo and me pursuing birds in the eastern plains of Colorado.

Even the most veteran of upland hunters will tell you that it is hard to kill a pheasant.  Wild roosters are wily, and they know how to avoid predators.  No matter how stealthy you are, pheasants seem to detect your presence just seconds before you are able to raise your weapon.  Not dissimilar to golf, if you’re slightly off the mark that day, poor shooting will undermine your success.  If you factor in DJ’s novice shotgun skills, and the warm, windy conditions, the odds of him harvesting a cock during our trip was low.

The first field of the day proved to be exactly what we needed to start our hunt.  The initial walk in area (WIA) had 10 birds hunkered down in the tumble weeds next to a corn field.  Echo easily found them, but we did not get a shot at a rooster.  Despite our failure to take a bird, DJ got to feel the excitement associated with flushing pheasants.  Our adrenaline was pumping and I hoped we would have another encounter before the end of the day. As we approached the next WIA, we watched from a distance, three roosters eating gravel off the road.  We hid the truck behind haybales that were adjacent to the field, and told Echo to hunt it up.  She took advantage of a strong northwest wind as we approached the grass-covered irrigation equipment.  It did not take long before Echo picked up the scent of the birds.  I told DJ to position himself on the northern side of the cover.  The first rooster busted from his position, and I shot him at 20 yards.  More roosters followed, but DJ did not feel comfortable with his shooting options.  With a bird in my pack we kept moving west, allowing Echo to venture in and out of the dense CRP.  As we neared the end of the quarter section, Echo became birdy.  Just as I told DJ to be ready, a rooster busted from his position on the northern side of the irrigation apparatus.  The 20-mph wind hit the bird’s plumage, and he started to sail south.  I heard DJ take a shot, and saw the load impact the rooster’s right side, sending the bird into a downward tumble.  I hollered to the heavens as I knew DJ had just taken his first ever wild pheasant! Echo retrieved the downed rooster, and delivered it to DJ.  I congratulated my friend as we both realized that our objective had been accomplished.

I was not a bird hunter when DJ and I met years ago.  In fact, I did not pursue game until my early 40s. I was thrilled to share my passion for the uplands with my friend.  I can confidently say that he will be back.

Video – Our Pheasant Hunt in Eastern, Colorado

Echo – Season 2

I listen to veteran wing-shooters talk about that one dog they own or owned that is special.   They describe a dog that instinctively works in harmony with them.  Beyond locating and retrieving evasive birds, the dog understands how to put their partner in a position for a successful shot.

This is my 7th year in the field, and Echo is my second gundog.  We adopted our first gundog, Pride, when his original owner passed away. He was 7, and had already spent many days in the field.  Pride’s initial reaction when I tried to hunt with him was to run to the truck.  His bond with Dick was obvious, and it took time to build trust with him. Pride and I had 4 great hunting seasons together, and he seemed to always salvage a difficult hunt by locating a deceptive rooster as the day was ending.

Echo is my first gundog that we are raising as a puppy. 2016 was our first season together, and she performed admirably from the start.  She was not even one, when I shot my first wild pheasant over her.  We spent many days in the field last year, and in all types of conditions.  The one characteristic that I noticed from day one, is that she always looks to see where I am positioned. She never catches a scent, and takes off in a futile chase to locate a running rooster. Echo  is a quick study and intuitively hunts within my shooting range.  She seems to understand my limitations, and works to get me a makeable shot.  Echo possess an accurate nose, incredible speed, and a high prey drive.   She will hunt from dawn to dusk with a never-quit attitude.

I don’t have enough experience to confidently state that Echo is a once in a lifetime gundog.  That said, she is proving to be everything I want in a hunting companion.

Video of Our Second Upland Trip of the 2017 – 2018 Season

Experience

After spending over two hours sighting in my X2, I headed to the Shipping Trap pasture in order to do some late afternoon scouting.  It was the day before the Colorado deer rifle opener, and I was curious to see if there were any animals worth pursuing.  The wind was blowing hard from the northwest so I walked into the stiff breeze using the trees as cover.  It did not take long to find the first buck.  He was 500 yards north of my position, and he stared at me for thirty seconds before trotting further north.  My binoculars revealed he was young and unimpressive.  I continued my walk for another one-half mile and then noticed movement far ahead of me.  Although I was quite a distance away from the deer, it was obvious that a few bucks were intermingling with does.   I managed to stay concealed as I got closer to the herd.  At about 200 yards, I poked my head out from my position behind a thick cottonwood.  There were nine does and five bucks, and it was obvious that the rut was on.  One of the three big bucks was mating with each female. If another buck challenged him, the dominate male knocked him away.  I had never witnessed anything like this so I decided to take a risk and move closer.  I did not need my optics when I got to within 100 yards.  The dominate male eventually spotted me, and stared at me for five minutes through the trees.  Realizing it was important to keep these deer on property, I slowly backed out of the area.

Saturday morning we entered the pasture about 20 minutes before shooting light. The wind was blowing directly from the west, so my strategy was didn’t differ from the night before.  I weaved my way along the dry creek, glassing the landscape every 30 yards.  The rising sun started to reveal animals moving around the western portion of the land.  A small buck slowly walked 200 yards in front of me, seemingly unaware of my presence.  Thirty minutes later, a group of five does and a young buck spotted me and stopped.  I ducked down and remained motionless on the ground.  When I picked my head up minutes later, the buck had made his way to me and stopped just thirty feet from my position.  Eventually I stood up and spooked the herd.  The good news is that they ran south, leaving everything to my west intact.  My pace slowed when I was 250 yards from the area where I witnessed the rutting bucks.  While there was no visible action, I glassed in and around the trees. I first noticed a few does bedding down, then a large rack appeared from the tall grass.  My heart started to race as I was looking at the stud from the day before.  Concealed behind a set of trees, I put a plan together to stalk the buck.  The tree closest to him ranged at 240 yards.  A small berm kept me hidden as I belly-crawled to the next set of trees.  After picking cactus thorns out of my knees & thighs, I rose, keeping my back against the cottonwood.  I was now 180 yards from my target, so I put my crosshairs of my scope where I thought his back was in the tall grass.  Twenty minutes went by and the buck barely moved.  The doe that was laying with him stood up and he followed. He took one step in my direction and I shot him in the heart. As the buck collapsed another big buck rose from his hidden position in the meadow. Seemingly confused at what just transpired, he walked towards the dead deer, and actually gave him a slight knock before moving on.

I approached the downed old buck with excitement and pride.  His face and antlers confirmed years of dominance.  While my adventure was over quickly, the memories of the event are forever etched in my mind.

Alone

I enjoy spending time by myself. Time alone allows me to focus on specific things that are happening in my life. I can be introspective, and evolve thoughts without distraction. I am able to laugh at my shortcomings, while appreciating the many blessings bestowed upon me. When I am alone, I am only accountable to myself, and the principles that guide me.

Despite the many virtues associated with solitude, when I hunt, I would rather it be with a good friend.

On opening day of Colorado’s pronghorn season, I hunted solo during the morning into the early afternoon. I was able to put the sneak on two good bucks, but passed on them as I was hopeful I could find a better animal. While I was not discouraged, I knew that I had to be cognizant of the time as Saturday would be my only full day in the field.

Soon after lunch, I asked Bob to join me in my quest for the right buck. I soon realized that my question was selfish as he had to assist other people who were less acquainted with the ranch. I made my way to another pasture with a new friend. Scott harvested a buck earlier in the day in the Two Section pasture, and he witnessed at least one more mature male during his pursuit. We walked for two hours, but only managed to locate two does. As we made our way back to my truck, I saw Bob’s truck heading down the county road in our direction. Scott had to head home, so I volunteered Bob to spend the rest of the day with me.

With just over two hours of hunting light left, we made our way to the Box Car pasture. It did not take long to glass a small group of pronghorn, including a giant buck. They were feeding, and just over 1,000 yards away from our position. We worked quickly, and closed the distance to 300 yards without spooking the 4 animals. After a 20 yard belly crawl, I set up my tripod and pointed the rifle through the tall grass at the unsuspecting buck. My first shot went high, and the two subsequent shots missed as well. Admittedly, I was perplexed with my poor shooting, as well as a bit angry and embarrassed. Instead of dwelling on my failure, Bob refocused me on getting after one more animal before the day ended. As the sun set behind us, we stumbled upon a large group of antelope facing away from our position. We got to 100 yards, and we were able to see the horns on the male. He was very average, but ostensibly in my range. Once he spotted us, he activated his 18 bedded down does, and they all started to trot west. Bob told me the male was at 200 yards, and awaited my decision. My first shot missed, but the next bullet dropped the pronghorn to the ground.

As I lay in bed that night, I reflected on the day’s events. I replayed the missed opportunity a few times, but soon recognized how gratifying the day had been despite my obvious failure. I was able to take a respectable animal, and more importantly, celebrate the success with a valued friend.

The 2017 Hunting Season Begins!

In the coming weeks, the 2017 Colorado hunting season will begin!  With some luck, hard work and a bit of skill, we will harvest mature animals that will feed our family and friends.  I will be posting on all social media sites any positive outcomes associated with my hunts.  I will ensure that the photographs and videos demonstrate my respect for the animals I chase. Some of you will be offended. Generally, those who negatively comment are the people who enjoy a delicious bone-in filet at Capital Grille. Before you comment on the depravity of my actions, ask yourself what do you do to protect and conserve wildlife? My sons and I are paid members of Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, SCI and Ducks Unlimited. These organizations ensure that the habit that sustains wild animals remains in place for years to come.

Please let me know if you want any pronghorn, deer, pheasant or quail. They’re yummy on the #Traeger.

Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf