One Big Fish

For the last seven years I make it a point to spend a few days chasing native rainbow trout in the North Platte River outside of Casper, Wyoming.  The fishery is special and cherished by the anglers that have made the area their second home.  During my first three years it was not uncommon to hook a dozen fish over twenty inches long.  In fact, the river always offered me an opportunity to do battle with at least one monster trout during my trip.  Over the last three years, the number of fish hooked remains astounding.  A seventy-five trout day is achievable and, at some level, expected.  The one thing missing, however, are the giant bows.

Family commitments required Chad and me to push our trip out three weeks as well as shorten it by two days. Our first morning proved to be successful as we experienced plenty of consistent action.  We figured out the feeding pattern, and employed a #14 red juju baetis along with a trailing #20 red zebra midge to secure many of the strikes.  As the afternoon evolved we made our way to a popular stretch that produced for us in the past.  The flow was down, limiting areas to fish.  Additionally, this section of the Platte has been discovered as the number of fisherman in the water has quadrupled.  As we waded into the current, we observed at least fifteen people manning desirable spots up river.  To that point, we were forced to fish a sub-optimal but available hole.  Maintaining the same flies on my nymphing rig, I made my initial cast into a darker, deeper seam.  Almost immediately my indicator plunged and I set the hook.  My line remained firm, so I stepped into deeper water to remove the apparent snag.  Suddenly, my line made an abrupt shift and rocketed away from me.  I could feel the weight of the fish and it was noticeably different.  Realizing I had hooked a big trout on a small midge, I positioned myself for what I anticipated would be a lengthy battle.  The bow remained low in the water column, and moved with purpose when I attempted to cut the distance between us.  There is an eddy on the far bank, and my initial thought was to try to coax the fish into the slower water.  My objective was to ensure the trout never got below me as I knew the small fly would not remain embedded in the fish’s jaw.  Fortunately, he continued to move up river which allowed me to slowly take back a portion of my fly line.  I removed my net from the magnetic clip and prepared to land the trout.  He was still energized and darted upstream evading my attempt to capture him.  I walked behind the fish and continued to reel.  Once my indicator neared my rod tip, I gently raised the fly rod.  The buck swam to the top and I netted him.  The twenty-two-inch fish was the largest I had landed in recent years.  Chad snapped some pictures then I returned him to the river.

I feel fortunate to have hooked and landed a North Platte leviathan.  The big fish are still around; you just have to get a bit lucky.

Ross 2016 22 Bow

A Late Season Colorado Pheasant Hunt

New Year’s Eve means two things at this point in my life; a vacation day and the eve of my oldest son’s birthday.  Gone are the days of big parties, a few too many cocktails and staying up all night.  To that point, I planned an early morning bird hunting trip to my favorite Walk in Areas in Eastern Colorado.  My lofty goal was to have my limit by early afternoon, and be back in time for a celebratory family dinner.  Jeremy, Kessler, Pride and I loaded up at five a.m. and hit the road.

Upon arriving at the first field at 8 a.m., we noticed tire tracks in the six inches of recently fallen snow.  After closer inspection, it looked as though the hunter only covered the northern part of the long CRP field the prior day.  We moved to the southern edge, and worked the dogs west.  Our thirty minute walk produced one hen that was sitting tight on the edge of a large corn field.  Disappointed that we did not see more birds, I made a phone call to a local rancher who allows me to hunt his property.  Ron recently moved into a new home, but he still has access to the land he leased for years.  He asked us not to hunt the northern switchgrass strips, as his cousins were coming out to hunt in January.  After thanking him profusely, we hastily made our way to the prime area.  Just to the north of the house, there is a one hundred and fifty yard shelterbelt that always has a few birds hiding within the junipers.  Leaving Pride in his crate, Jeremy, Kessler and I pinched the tree row from the east and west.  Weaving through the eight foot trees, we worked our way toward one another.  As I focused on the cover to my left, I heard a bird get up behind me then a successive shot.  The plan worked as Jeremy bagged the first rooster of the day.

Given the explicit direction of the rancher, we drove to the southern edge of the property and unloaded.  The cover is pristine; deep grass abutting corn.  Additionally, no one had hunted the land in over a month.  Leaving Pride in the truck, Jeremy, Kessler and I worked our way west keeping about twenty five yards between us.  Pheasant tracks became evident just off the county road.  I anticipated birds were running to evade their pursuers.   Without warning, dozens of pheasants started to flush wild.  My first instinct was to sprint to the action, but experience told me to be patient.  I was rewarded minutes later with a dozen birds jumping up within twenty five yards.  I selected a lone rooster moving into the cornfield and fired three unsuccessful shots.  Disappointed in my performance, I reloaded my Benelli Ethos and marched forward.  Cursing at my inability to execute, I tried to focus on immediate improvement.  Literally dozens of pheasants continued to get up about seventy five yards from our position.  Jeremy and I commented on the incredible scene taking place in front of us.  The bird population in Eastern Colorado is recovering, and it was now evident.  About three quarters of the way into the field I stopped.  A nervous hen flew into the cornfield followed by a lone rooster flying away to the west.  A single HEVI-SHOT round took him down, and Kessler made the retrieve.  With a bird in my Orvis Upland Sling Pack we worked our way to the far western edge of the field.  Realizing that we were pushing birds, I picked up my pace in order to ensure that our prey would not escape into the adjacent cornfield.  As I turned the corner, I saw a rooster sprinting back into the thick ironweed.  I yelled to Jeremy as the pheasant took flight.  He made a perfect swing, and downed the bird with one proficient shot.

We made a decision to walk back to the east, as we did not want to disturb the acreage close to headquarters.  It did not take long before a rooster jumped out of the tall grass and took flight.  My first shell missed to his left, but my follow up shot knocked the bird out of the air. We witnessed more pheasants taking flight, but none that encouraged a shot.

It was lunchtime, so we decided to visit friends in the area as we had Christmas gifts.

I am not certain that I will get out again this season.  Pride is officially retired.  He does not have the ability to navigate fields any longer.  I will miss watching him hunt.
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English: A Pheasant at Castle Grant Pheasants ...

Video: Another Great Day Hunting Pheasants on the Eastern Plains of Colorado

 

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, and 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 nine 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 center pivot irrigation machine that abuts the county road.  Tall grass and tumble weeds sit below the drag 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 then 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 it 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 into the wind.  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

Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf