Pride Circa 2015

I did not anticipate that my 12.5-year-old lab, Pride, would make our annual upland hunting trip.  He was diagnosed with cancer in June, and had part of his left front paw amputated.  His gate after the surgery was noticeably awkward, and moderate running became strenuous.  As I attempted to get him prepared for the 2015 season, he tired quickly, and did not seem enthused when we threw the bumper.  As our trip neared, I was conflicted on what I should do.  I am fortunate to have buddies that own quality, hard-working gun dogs.  Hunting over them is a privilege. That said, the experience in the field is enhanced when you’re working in harmony with your own dog.  A dog that skillfully corners a running rooster.  A dog that locates a crippled bird in deep cover.  A dog that forgives you when you miss an easy shot.

On Wednesday evening I made the decision to bring Pride on the trip.  He would not hunt large fields, or be put in situations that would tax his mind and body.  Additionally, I brought all relevant medications to ensure that he remained comfortable during the journey.

Five of us arrived in the northeast corridor of Colorado at about 9 am on Thursday, November 19th.  I am familiar with the Walk in Area (WIA) fields in this part of the state.  The drought that plagued this region over the prior three years made hunting challenging.  Bird populations decreased substantially as the habitat disappeared.  Thankfully, most of Colorado received adequate precipitation throughout 2015, and early season reports were promising.  I surveyed the land once I arrived at our first field.  The CRP was noticeably higher, and I hoped that would result in consistent action.

Hunting Pride in the first couple of fields was not an option.  The cover was too thick, and the walks were too long.  I made a call to a friend who is a landowner in this part of the state.  He gave us permission to hunt his property.  Our initial private field has a pivot machine that abuts the county road.  Tall grass and tumble weeds sit below the dangling hoses.  The deep cover parallels a large cornfield harvested weeks prior to our visit.  We manned each end of the agricultural equipment and worked towards the center.  Pride walked with determination and excitement as we executed the pinching technique.  His tail became noticeably active, and he picked up the pace, signifying there were pheasants present.  Unfortunately, the first two roosters flushed wild and out of shotgun range.  A third rooster flew out of the cover thirty yards in front of me.  I took immediate aim and fired three quick rounds at the evasive bird.  Unfortunately, I did not connect, and was forced to yell “no bird” as Pride headed into the cut cornfield.  When the hunters met somewhere in the middle of the field, a final rooster flew, and was quickly taken down by a flurry of skillful shots.

We made our way to another private section of land that always holds a large amount of pheasants.  It is critical to approach the long row of tall junipers from both the north and south.  We set up a blocker at the far west end in order to prevent birds from easily escaping.  There is a significant amount of cover throughout the shelterbelt that includes two large, deep pits.  Cornfields line both sides of the trees, which makes a quiet approach almost impossible.  As we moved through the area we noticed a pile of new shotgun shells, indicating that others had recently hunted the land.  Given the disappointing facts, three of the guys started to head back to the trucks.  Pride and I marched further west, still hoping that there were birds held up in a small patch of cover one hundred yards from the prime area.  As I approached the edge of the field the distinct sound of a pheasant taking flight caused me to turn one hundred and eighty degrees.  There were two roosters already in the air and moving in different directions.  I focused on the bird moving to my right and fired a HEVI-SHOT round from my Benelli Ethos 12 gauge.  The right wing of the pheasant was struck, but he successfully glided fifty yards into the middle of the cut cornfield.  Pride was already running, but his lack of speed undermined any ability to successfully mark the downed bird.  I ran right to the position where I believed the bird landed.  I asked Pride to hunt dead and positioned him downwind.  For fifteen minutes, I watched him move carefully up and down the cornstalk rows.  Suddenly his turns tightened and his body lowered.  He stopped on point, staring intently at a pile of brush.  Watching with amazement, Jeremy and I waited for Pride to move.  He dove into the cover and grabbed the wounded bird.  I was elated at Pride’s performance.  He accomplished a feat I thought impossible given his age and medical condition.  We took pictures and I ended his day.  I could have headed back home as my trip was already a resounding success.

Eight of us enjoyed four great days in the field.  Successfully hunting both public and private land throughout eastern Colorado and Western Kansas.  Pride continued to surprise me, finding birds in the nastiest cover.  Given his remarkable performance, we will hunt again this season.

Our First Field

Product Comment
Benelli Ethos (12 Gauge) I shot pretty well the entire trip.  The only birds I missed were my fault.  The gun performed flawlessly in some pretty cold weather.
HEVI-SHOT Pheasant Every bird I hit eventually died.  The load packs a serious punch.
SoundGear Bob and I wore our SoundGear hearing protection during the entire trip.  We love the sound amplification in conjunction with the protection.
Orvis Upland Sling Pack I was cautiously optimistic when I purchased this pack.  It performed very well in the field.  Comfortable and everything is easily accessible.
onXmaps Imperative on this trip. Needed to distinguish public from private land.  A must for all hunters and fisherman.
Irish Setter King Toe I LOVE these boots.  We walked 10 miles a day and my feet were so comfortable and warm.
Oakley Racing Jacket Would not hunt without these shades.  They perform very well in low light conditions.   The lenses are easily scratched so protect them with a case.
SportDOG UPLANDHUNTER 1875 The best e-collar in the market for upland hunters.
Sylmar Body & Paw Protection I recommend these products to all of my friends that own gun dogs.
Sitka Ballistic Beanie Awesome hat that keeps you warm.  Too warm when the air temperature crests 30 degrees.



Buck Down!

I climbed into the deer stand at 5 am on day two of my deer hunt.  The temperature was thirty five degrees, and there was a bit of weather moving in.  Morning snow flurries were forecasted to subside, but rain would persist throughout the day.  Given the colder, nastier weather I had determined that the deer would be active, and hopefully moving within gunshot range.  Sunrise was at 7:17 am, and I used my Styrka S7 binoculars to survey the terrain in the lowlight conditions.  Unfortunately, there was nothing happening around my particular position.  As with the prior day, I witnessed three bucks and four does move along the western fence separating the Cage Ranch from their neighbors.  One buck was obviously a shooter, but never drifted over the boundary line.  Frustrated with the inability to locate my quarry, I made a decision to leave the stand and walk the Shipping Trap pasture.  It was 9 am and the rain was increasing steadily.  Using the Cottonwoods as cover, I walked east towards a more dense formation of trees.  Every twenty steps or so, I would glass a few hundred yards ahead, searching for signs of life.  As I reached the far northeastern end of the land, I glanced south and I saw a face staring at me.  Raising my binoculars, I realized that the buck was young, and unworthy of my pursuit.  Arriving at my truck at 10:30 am, I developed a strategy for the rest of the day.  Earlier in the week, my friend Dave had witnessed deer moving about the Pump Pasture.  To that point, I made my way a few miles west, and I entered the field.

The wind had shifted in my favor, blowing at 10mph from the west.  The dry creek abutting the Pump Pasture is not a part of the Ranch.  There is a fence that defines the property line, and I would glass the area from a vantage point high above the eastern edge of the land.  I did not witness any movement, so I made my way down to the actual barrier.  Years before, I stalked and eventually killed my first pronghorn in this field.  I remembered where the earth changed its formation, and I felt deer would likely bed down just over a ridge a half a mile to the southwest.   As I made my way west down the fence line, I noticed an abundance of fresh deer scat.  My heart started to beat more rapidly, and my pace quickened.   When the ridge became visible, I changed directions and I walked straight south.  My Tikka T3 Lite 30-06 had a Barnes VOR-TX 168 grain round chambered, and I was prepared to engage.  I took a moment to look behind me, and I saw a doe gazing at me just inches from the fence.  She remained motionless while I ranged her at 150 yards.  My gut told me that she didn’t flee because this deer was a part of a larger group still hiding in the long grass.  Another doe jumped up, followed by yet another doe.  I started to quietly repeat the phrase “where is the buck”?  Seconds later, a buck jumped up to my left, and he started to run straight west, then he jogged to the north.  He stood at 130 yards and stared back at me.  I put the crosshairs on his right shoulder, and scrutinized at his rack through my Bushnell Elite scope.  It was obvious that this was not the deer that I was searching for, but he was a shooter.  The buck bolted north still offering me an ethical shot so I took it.  The round hit him just behind his right shoulder, and he staggered, ultimately hitting the ground just yards away from the impact site.  As soon as he had fallen over, a massive buck with a doe emerged from the grass just 80 yards from my position.   They ran straight west then stopped to look back.  He was a brute, and absolutely what I had wanted.  I smiled at him realizing he got lucky on this day.

Once I arrived at the downed deer, I took a moment to reflect on the hunt.  There was a unique level of satisfaction as this was the first time I had hunted big game on my own.  I came up with a logical plan, and it had ended up working out perfectly.

Ross' Buck 2015

Equipment Comments
SoundGear Electronic hearing protection is a must for all hunters. This is the brand.
Styrka S7 Binoculars Results are in; these premium optics must be considered. They’re that good.
onXmaps Critical for all hunters and anglers that hunt both public and private land.
Tikka T3 Lite Six for six with this rifle.  Price is right and the gun is very accurate.
Barnes VOR-TX  Ammunition 168 grain round is devastating and results in a quick death.
Under Armour Hunt Apparel Clothing is weatherproof, breathable and warm.
Under Armour Speed Freak Boots Light, comfortable and worth the price.
Leupold Rangefinder Expensive but accurate.  Easy to acquire target.
Bushnell Elite Scope Has and continues to work great.  Even in bad weather.
Knives of Alaska Great knife set.  Had the deer cleaned inside of 30 minutes.

Family Affair

For the third season in a row I was privileged to draw a buck pronghorn tag on the Cage Ranch.  This year would be a first for me as my oldest son, Ty, age ten, would accompany me on a big game hunt.  Ty is a soccer player, and adheres to an intense schedule that prohibits him from regularly participating in varied outdoor pursuits.  Ty’s weekend off from soccer commitments happened to coincide with opening day of pronghorn season.

I picked up Ty from school at 3:00 pm on Friday afternoon.  We talked hunting, and observed the numerous pronghorn family groups during the drive through the Eastern Plains.  Upon arriving at the Ranch, we decided to scout a few familiar pastures.  Ty and I patrolled an area just east of headquarters, and then headed to the west when we could not locate any goats.  As we drove the county road, we started to spot the white, tan and black animals grazing a few thousand feet off the road.  Ty had his own binoculars so I asked him to start looking for horns.  A setting sun prohibited optimal viewing, yet we were still able to observe six quality pronghorn bucks demonstrating seasonal rutting behavior.

Ty and I flipped between the Outdoor and Sportsman’s Channel while eating our dinner.    Each hunting show viewed heightened the level of excitement for the next day.  Bob arrived later in the evening, and Ty refused to hit the rack as he wanted to participate in the next day’s strategy conversation.  When his eyelids became too heavy it was time to get some sleep.

Dense fog moved in overnight, and provided an unwelcome start to Saturday morning.  This situation presented obvious challenges as our fast moving quarry would be difficult to spot.  Once the wind picked up at around 8:30 am, the fog started to lift.  Bob had spotted a nice buck running does in the Stacey Pasture earlier in the week.  We decided to hunt that terrain first.  As in prior years, we hiked our way to vantage points where we could stealthily glass unsuspecting animals.  Minutes into our drive, Bob stopped his truck on a two-track, and then slowly walked to the crest of an adjacent hill.  After glassing the area, he hurried back and announced that he saw the buck that he had found earlier in the week.  He was an absolute shooter, and we would pursue him.

We made our way a couple of miles south in order to establish an ambush point.  Bob spotted the speed goats moving in our general direction.  There were two bucks in the group, including one that was obviously mature.  With Ty trailing me, I worked my way into a position where I could see the animals.  Although I knew they had not noticed our presence, given their vision, it would not be long before they busted us.   I set my bipod down, and worked to pick the buck up in my scope.  Bob provided me a range of 270 yards, and I let out a breath.  Once I felt confident and calm, I squeezed the trigger.  The shot missed and the entire group started to run.  The big buck actually moved into a favorable position about 220 yards in front of me and stopped. Following Bob’s direction, I ran forward, took a solid position, chambered a round and squeezed the trigger.  Unharmed, the pronghorn turned to his left, and started to move with speed.  I regained my composure, and put the crosshairs between his shoulders.  Once comfortable, I squeezed the trigger for the third time.  Through my scope, I watched the buck crumble to the ground.

Hugs, smiles and high fives were abundant.  Bob congratulated me, and I thanked him for his expert tutelage. Ty was visibly excited.  He indicated that he is ready to go through Hunter Safety this next summer.   I look forward to helping Ty on his first hunt.

Bob and Ross Pronghorn Hunt 2015 (1) Bob and Ross Pronghorn Hunt 2015 (2)

2015 Video of the Pronghorn Hunt at the Cage Ranch

Gear Brand Comment
Knife Knives of Alaska –  Light Hunter Combo – Suregrip Gutted and butchered 2 goats with ease
Ear Protection SoundGear A must have for hunters
Clothing Under Armour Hunt Warm, breathable & durable
Boots Under Armour Speed Freak Light, tough & comfortable
Rifle  (.30-06) Tikka T3 Light Accurate & proven incredibly effective
Scope Bushnell Elite 4 x 12 works great
Binoculars Vortex Diamondback Solid optics – upgrade to the Viper HD
Round (168g) Barnes VOR-TX Precise and lethal
GPS Garmin with OnXmaps A must have for hunters who hunt public
Camera Intova High quality video
Bipod Bog-Pod Great – get the tripod for additional stability

Here We Go Again

I don’t get to fish often.  As with my contemporaries, work and family take priority at this time in life.  To that point, when I do fish, I like to venture to spots that put the odds of success in my favor.  Colorado fly fishing in the summer means Spinney Mountain Reservoir, callibaetis nymphs and a Gold Medal fishery. Timing the trip is critical, as you need to be certain that the hatch is actually coming off. If Poxybacks and Flashback Hare’s ears are being purchased in mass at local fly shops, I go ahead and schedule a day off from the job.  In late June of 2015, I was told by some reliable friends who fish the lake regularly that they spotted trout rolling close to shore.

I arrived at Brad’s house at 5 am, and we immediately hit the road.  It would be the first time Brad had fished this area in more than 25 years of living in Colorado.  The wet weather in the Rockies during the spring and early summer made the rivers uniquely high and fast.  The waters flowing into Spinney were so heavy that the entire landscape has changed.  Areas that had produced in prior years were no longer accessible for wading fisherman.  Weed lines that hold the hatching callibaetis nymphs weren’t visible.  I started to succumb to a bit of doubt as things were not as they once were.  Adapting to the situation, Brad and I worked our way along the eastern shoreline, scanning the relatively calm water for porpoising fish.  While there was no visible action, Brad located a deep drop just off a point.  There was milfoil present, so we decided to rig up and start fishing. It took a while, but a fish boiled about 30 yards to my left.  Once in range, I laid a cast in the general vicinity of where I witnessed the feeding fish.  I use an Amy’s Ant as my indicator, and hang a #10 Flashback Hare’s Ear about four feet beneath the dry.  My initial twitch caused a violent strike, as the trout attacked the nymph.  A weak hook-set while the fish darted at me, had me scrambling to recover line.  The trout worked his way to my left, then spit the hook after an impressive acrobatic leap.  Disappointed at my performance, I checked my flies then started to make casts in and around the closest weed line.  It did not take long for the next fish to slam my callibaetis imitation, and move hard to my right.  The fight lasted a bit longer than anticipated, as the trout was all of 23” and powerful.  Fired up and ready for more action, I waded into deeper water angling toward a visible clump of weeds.   Once my Ant landed I gave two slight twitches, and the Hydros HD line began screaming toward me.  I stripped vigorously and pumped my rod until I felt weight on my line.  She abruptly turned and sped to the north when her head grazed my Orvis River Guard Brogue boots.  Having witnessed the massive fish up close, I felt real pressure to land the trout.  It took another 5 minutes to successfully net the 6lb fish.  She was easily the largest bow I had ever landed at Spinney.

I hooked and landed 4 more impressive trout over the next few hours.  One of my last fish of the day slurped the Amy’s Ant just a few feet from my position in the water.  I watched a black head subtly surface, grab and make off with the floating fly.  It was the most thrilling take in my over 8 years of fly fishing.  The imagery of the experience will always be emblazoned in my mind.

Spinney 2015 Video


Reel Fly Rod Waders Line Pack Camera
Mirage Helios 2 Silver Sonic Hydros HD Safe Passage Intova


On the Fritz

Cover of "Golf is Not a Game of Perfect"
Cover of Golf is Not a Game of Perfect
Cover of "Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental ...
Cover of Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game

It may be time for me to re-read Dr. Bob Rotella’s book “Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect”.  Perhaps the audio version of Joseph Parent’s “Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game” might be a timely listen.  Beyond an admittedly flawed swing, my confidence in my golf game is deteriorating.  It has become difficult for me to get the ball in the hole.  For the first time since I picked up the game in my early 20s, when I stand over a ball, doubt creeps into my mind.  These qualms do not frequently occur on the driving range; a place of refuge where I am reminded that I can actually get the ball airborne.  This perplexing paradox disturbs me as I realize that my poor performance emanates from my brain.  Forgetting angles and swing planes, a synapse breaks between the range and the first tee.

I have sought the expertise from teaching professionals, purchased additional training aids and read books.  I try to employ visualization when I practice, and frequently participate in rigorous exercise to ensure I am fit.  My opportunity to practice is limited due to work, my sons’ sports and life.  That said, my buddies have the same constraints, and their games have not been negatively impacted.

It is hard to admit that I am succumbing to mental weakness.  As an extremely competitive person, I have always taken pride in my ability to focus when necessary.  My golf swing has never been elegant, but I could get myself around a course in a respectable number of shots.  At times, those scores would be in the mid to upper 70s, and came at fortuitous times.  The pressure of the moment seemed to enhance my ability to deliver.  If I have to be brutally honest with myself, I would say that anxiety has undermined any opportunity to succeed.  As an example, I can execute a myriad of successful shots during a warm up session.  However, when I step to the tee box, my swing becomes short, fast and inaccurate.  Balls that flew straight, and in the vicinity of my intended target, now plunge to the ground nowhere near where I was aiming.  Instead of focusing on successfully hitting the next shot, I am quickly overtaken with a sense of confusion.  The constant in-round analysis of my poor swings leads to heightened tension and incremental uneasiness.  To that point, the opportunity to play well is diminished.

The most difficult about dealing with cerebral issues is that trying harder does not equate to improved performance.  I am not opposed to putting in the essential time, and making the required swing changes in order to improve.  What has me perplexed is how I am going to repair my confidence?  What are the tactics I need to employ to fix my brain?

This has been difficult to write as it exhumes an uncomfortable, personal weakness.  No competitor wants to admit they are not self-assured when confronted with a challenge.  You must believe you will succeed in order to have a chance at being effective.   My mindset will have to change if I want overcome this test of my resolve.

Bottom is where I was -Top is where I am. #hardtolookat
Bottom is where I was Top is where I am now. #hardtolookat


Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf