Muzzleloader Pronghorn 2016

I take pride in making conservative, ethical shots.  Shots that result in quick, humane kills.  I have been fortunate to have taken all of my big game animals with a single bullet.  Tracking a wounded animal has not been necessary, and I am thankful for that.  I knew that when I won my CVA Optima V2 at this year’s Pheasants Forever dinner, there was a real risk of failure.  For years, I watched hunters on television kill all types of big game animals with a muzzleloader.  I now had the opportunity to hunt primitively.

Opening day of Colorado’s muzzleloader pronghorn season was September 21st.  Weeks before, my practice sessions with the rifle proved to be a challenge.  It took me forty-five minutes to get on paper, and another thirty minutes to establish a reasonable grouping.  To that point, when I arrived at the Ranch later in the afternoon on 9/21, I went straight to range in order to continue to get comfortable with iron sites.  Shooting from 100 yards, I put four within six inches of one another.  While I was not completely confident, I did not think additional practice time would produce incrementally better results.

The Blue Mill pasture is a favorite of mine.  While there is not a lot of cover, I am able to glass over a vast area from great vantage points.  My plan was simple; identify a shooter buck, determine his general direction, and go ambush him.  I felt I could execute a lethal shot within one hundred yards.  It did not take long to spot a really nice goat.  Glassing from three hundred yards, I spent about fifteen minutes looking at this rack to be certain he was worth pursuing.  Recognizing he was special, I started my stalk armed with one hundred grains of propellant along with a Powerbelt Aerolite bullet.  Almost immediately the buck spotted me, but he did not seem overly concerned.  There were a few females he was eyeing, and that kept his attention as I walked in his general direction.  When he dropped behind a knoll, I started running in order make up ground, and obtain a favorable position.  I glanced over the hill and saw his head down, casually feeding just seventy-five yards from my position.  My heart was beating rapidly but I remained composed.  There were about one hundred head of cattle just behind the pronghorn so I needed to wait until he cleared them.  As if it was scripted, he walked to my left and looked up at me.  My Optima V2 was already in the monopod, and I took aim.  The fiber optic site was centered on his left shoulder, and I squeezed the trigger.  

Unfortunately, the fifty caliber bullet sailed over his back.  Stunned that I did not connect, I watched the goat race to a position safely out of the reach of the muzzleloader.  As I made my way back to the truck, the buck cautiously made his way back to the lower section of the pasture.  I reloaded and ran towards him.  My rangefinder had him at 130 yards so I pulled the trigger.  Again, the bullet whizzed over his body.  Slightly dejected, I departed the pasture to see If I could find another animal.  I watched a few more bucks throughout the late afternoon but all were too immature to consider.

The plan on day two was to explore the eastern pastures of the Ranch.  It was seven in the morning, fifty degrees, and the sun was quickly warming the day.  I drove for miles, regularly pausing on the two tracks in order to peer into long draws.  Unfortunately, I did not see a single animal.  At about nine, I decided to head back to the Blue Mill to see if there was any activity.  As I motored west on the county road, I noticed a big buck with a single doe just one hundred and fifty yards off the road.  Startled by my presence, they completed a 180, and ran one hundred yards away from me.  Both animals stopped and looked back to assess the threat.  I backed my truck up until the pronghorn could not see me.  My loaded CVA was slung over my shoulder as I ran laterally in an attempt to impart a flanking strategy.  When I was six hundred yards from my truck, I slowly crept west toward the general direction of the animals.  Despite my efforts, they spotted me just as I spotted them.  Realizing I had to act quickly, I put the gun in the monopod and took aim.  Almost immediately I realized that the rear sites of the gun were gone.  I panicked as I knew I would not be able to kill this pronghorn or any other.  Once I got back to my truck I called Bob and told him about the situation.  As expected, he offered up multiple suggestions in order to solve my unfortunate predicament.  Luckily for me my friend Dave was heading to the Ranch, and he offered to let me use his muzzleloader.

Dave’s muzzleloader was shooting a bit high at one hundred yards.  It was almost four in the afternoon, so Tyler, Bob and I headed back to the Blue Mill.  It did not take long to locate a respectable goat feeding in and around some cows.  He did not startle when we approached him from two hundred and fifty yards away.  I was able to get to around one hundred yards before he started to trot away from us.  When he turned to look back, I took the shot.  Unfortunately, my bullet was off the mark, striking him in the leg.  The injured buck ran for a long distance before collapsing.  While I was certainly proud that I had harvested the pronghorn, I was disappointed in my inability to execute correctly.

If I am fortunate to draw another muzzleloader 2016-pronghorntag, I will put in even more time on the range.  Shooting with iron sights is difficult, and situational practice is a necessity.


Equipment Comment
MuzzleloaderCVA Optima V2 Easy to shoot and clean; great gun
Binoculars – Styrka S7 10 x42 Great optics for a reasonable price
Pants – Lolo Upland Briar Comfortable, tough but expensive
Electronic Ear Protection – SoundGear A must for all hunters who want to protect their ears
Truck Storage – MobileStrong Keeps hunters organized
Mapping – onXmaps Highly effective mapping software for your GPS



Ty and Jesse,

I have learned valuable life lessons during my time on earth.  Many times those teachings have come at a personal price.  As I close in on my 50th birthday, I want to provide you guidance.  It should be expected that you will experience disappointment, frustration and anger during your lives.  My objective is to provide you the perspective of a seasoned human who happens to be your dad.

  • Love one another and remain good friends.
  • Work hard. The most successful people are generally the hardest workers.
  • Be humble. You will have successes in life. Recognize the help that you have received.
  • Own and operate a business. Cut your own path in life.
  • Don’t put yourself in a situation that will be hard to recover from.
  • Be respectful. Specifically, of women and authority.
  • Be empathetic. Never sit in judgement of others.
  • Always do your best. If you commit to something, do what it takes to be successful.
  • Never let the fear of failure undermine what you want to accomplish.
  • Beware of who you trust. Most people have good intentions.
  • Let people earn your friendship. Once they have done so, remain loyal.
  • Take a breath before you make a decision. Analysis does not always equate to paralysis.
  • Take it slow with the ladies. This will be hard but it is necessary.
  • When you financially make it, pretend like you haven’t.
  • Adequately prepare yourself for anything you deem important.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help.
  • Choose the right mentors.
  • Be disciplined in your life pursuits. There are many distractions.  Ignore the noise.
  • Apologize when you are wrong.
  • Help people who cannot help themselves.
  • Be charitable but cautious with your money.
  • Say, “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome” when appropriate.
  • Don’t idolize anyone.
  • Learn something new every day.
  • Don’t let your emotions dictate how you perform.
  • Take the time to enjoy what the world offers. Life moves fast.
  • Move around or through your adversaries.
  • Always believe in yourself and never quit.
Jesse (9) and Ty (11)
Jesse (9) and Ty (11)


The 2016 season represents my fifth year chasing wild birds in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas.  My gundog partner, Pride, is now officially retired.  A seasoned birddog, we adopted him at seven years old.  Over the last five years, Pride taught me how to bird hunt.  He put up with my misses as well as located that late-day rooster to fill my limit or salvage the trip.  The formula was easy; I pointed him into the wind and he did the rest.  It was upsetting to see him slow down towards the conclusion of the 2014/2015 season. It was my first indication that Pride’s hunting career was coming to an end.  When cancer took part of his left front paw last summer, we knew that our time in the field would be limited.  He had a few successful jaunts over four trips last winter.  On December 31st 2015, with birds flying everywhere, he could not make the walk back to the truck.  I handed my shotgun to Jeremy, and then carried my friend back to the truck.  On that day, Pride stopped chasing birds.

Preparing for that moment, Jenny and I had been talking to different breeders throughout the fall.  I ended up speaking with a nice man in Yuma, Colorado.  Francis Owens and his wife, Teressa  own a breeding/training business called Advantage Pointing Labs.  Francis and I spoke multiple times during the season, and he invited me to hunt over his dogs.  While we had a tough day finding birds, it was obvious that his pups demonstrated everything we wanted in a pet and gundog.

Echo was born on December 13, 2015.  She is one of three females in a litter of twelve Labrador retrievers.  We took her home at ten weeks, and then returned her to Francis and Teressa  one month later for basic puppy training.  Admittedly, I am not yet confident in my ability to train a gundog.  With that in mind, I asked Francis to start Echo.  The plan was to do an initial introduction to birds at three months, then bring her back for obedience as well as more complex field work at five months.  My responsibility has been to educate myself on the how to reinforce the teachings.  SportDOG offers a variety of content that helps me understand how to work with Echo.  Additionally, Francis regularly posts YouTube videos demonstrating the specific techniques he utilizes with his dogs.  I observe then do my best to employ the methods during our practice time.

Echo is now seven months old.  She has a sweet disposition and a strong prey drive (video – Echo @ 7 months).  When the season opens in November we will be ready to patrol the same fields that Pride and I once scoured.  I look forward to our upcoming hunting adventures.

Echo Training at Quail Run

Echo @ 7m

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.

Visit Mark and his team at the Platte River Fly Shop.  They sell me the flies that are actually working.

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.

English: A Pheasant at Castle Grant Pheasants ...

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


Working Hard so I can Hunt, Fish and Golf