Category Archives: Hunting

Upland, Waterfowl and Big Game

Something to Remind You

On February second my wonderful gun dog Pride, passed on.  He was thirteen and one half years old, and his health was deteriorating.  We were fortunate to adopt Pride at seven years old, after his original owner lost a long battle with cancer.  His personality was unique for a seasoned gun dog.  In the field, Pride demonstrated all of the characteristics of an accomplished bird hunter.  He could locate evasive roosters, and retrieve downed birds out of the thickest cover.  At home, Pride was quiet and reserved. He loved to be loved, and that was obvious by the way he responded to our family.

The most special moment in my hunting life occurred during my first ever pheasant opener in 2011. In our initial field, Pride located a half dozen roosters, and I missed every shot. I had pheasant fever, and my confidence was shaken.  In the early afternoon, hunting became difficult when temperatures hit the lower sixties, and the wind blew at twenty miles per hour.  We were walking a public CRP field just northeast of Holyoke, Colorado.  About two thirds of the way into the quarter section of native grass, Pride stopped on a hard point.  He was not a pointing lab, but his posture was unmistakable.  Realizing that a pheasant was present, I started to make my way over to my focused dog.  The bird must have started to run right as Pride suddenly moved left. When Pride shuffled, the rooster took flight.  I shouldered my A400 and fired. The bird tumbled from the sky, and fell over a nearby hill.  Pride was already in a full sprint when the rooster landed in the waist-high grass.  Almost immediately, I began to second guess my shot.  Was that a rooster or hen?  Did I make a lethal shot?  My anxiousness disappeared when I saw Pride running towards me with the colorful bird in his mouth.  I just shot my first wild pheasant.

Thank you Pride.  Thank you for teaching me how to be a bird hunter.  Thank you for your patience, love and kindness.  Thank you for being my partner in many amazing adventures.  Rest in peace my man.

Something to Remind You

The Wave; Country Style

I was born and raised about 30 minutes north of Boston, Massachusetts. I am a native New Englander, and proud of it.  We live a fast, competitive and intense lifestyle in the Northeast.  Once one earns their driver’s license, emotions become amplified.  People treat their commute as a race. If you’re dissatisfied with the speed in the left lane, you flash your headlights at the driver in front of you.  If that car doesn’t move, you tailgate them.  If the tailgate proves to be ineffective, you bolt across multiple lanes, only to cut back to the left lane in order to get ahead of the original driver.  As you bolt by the person lollygagging in the left lane, you raise your middle finger in order to demonstrate your anger.  The gesture usually results in a continued confrontation of flipping each other off for miles down the road.

When we moved to Colorado just over 8 years ago, the pace of play slowed. When I started hunting, things really changed. As I drive east, people wave at you. It is a subtle move with the left hand, but noticeable.  At first, I was perplexed by the gesture.  Did the person misidentify me as a friend? Do I wave back even though they have the wrong guy?  It took a few trips to realize that these are people just being kind.  I am not certain where the geographical line is in the State, but when I cross it, things change.  I have adopted the motion, and now wave at every truck that passes me.  Waving at another person I don’t know makes me feel good, so I will continue doing it.

Video

More Fun in Bird Country

The Birds are Back in Town

I envy hunters that tell me that they shot their first bird with their dad’s supervision at 12 years old. By contrast, I shot my first wild rooster in my early 40s, and did it without any guidance.  I remember the overwhelming excitement when I stepped into my first walk-in-area (WIA) on opening day 2011.  This was followed by an intense adrenaline rush when my dog Pride stopped in the middle of a CRP field, and a pheasant flushed from the high grass.  When he eventually returned the downed bird, I was transformed into an upland addict.

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2016 represents my 6th season pursuing wild birds.  I now consider myself a quasi-veteran bird hunter.  Though the intense emotions associated with each hunt have not changed, my years of experience in the field keeps me focused on the task at hand.  While my shooting and gun dog skills need constant refinement, the odds for a successful hunt have improved.

Our annual bird hunt took place at the end of November.  Regular precipitation in our region over the last 2 years set the stage for a promising upland season.  Echo, my 11-month-old Labrador Retriever, has been through weeks of gun dog training.  While she is young, Echo demonstrates all of the signs of a canine ready to do what she was bred to do.20161118_061647

Greg and I drove out to eastern Colorado during the early afternoon on November 14th.  The plan was to hunt a few public fields late that afternoon, then slowly migrate to the Lenz Family Farms with the rest of the guys on Friday.  The weather in the area was predicted to get nasty.  Temperatures would drop from the 50s to the upper 20s, and blizzard-like conditions would provide the first snow of the fall.  Echo and her brother, Whitley hunted until dusk.  We uncovered more than a few birds, but the snow/wind combination made visibility problematic.  To that point, we ended the hunt, and carefully navigated our way to the hotel.

Temperatures Friday morning were in the teens, and the sun glistened off the freshly fallen snow.  Greg, Bob, Oneal and I knew that birds would congregate around cover, and should be averse to flying.  We made our way to a WIA that Greg identified as a honey-hole years before.  As we neared the field, both trucks became lodged in the deep snow drifts covering the two track.  We spent 30 minutes trying to dig ourselves out, but could not make any headway.  Realizing that it would be a while before Oneal’s buddy could rescue us, the 4 of us walked to the public field just a few hundred yards from our position. 20161118_0743490

 

 

It did not take long before we witnessed birds flushing from the tall plum thickets situated around a cut corn field.  In an attempt to flank the fleeing birds, I ran to the southeastern side of the cover.  Perhaps that was a tactical error as the birds already emptied into the corn by the time I reached the edge of the field.  Greg and Bob took Whitley to the southeast, while Oneal, Echo and I worked our way northwest.  Roosters continue to explode from the adjacent shelter-belt, and I continued to miss them.  I am certain Echo was not thrilled with my underwhelming performance, yet she continued to hunt with determination.  As I neared a fallen juniper, Echo went on point.  Excited by her posture, I moved towards her, and a covey of bobwhite quail exploded just 10 feet from me.  I selected one bird and fired, but again failed to connect. Dejected but not deterred by my repeated misses, we made our way to the edge of a long, tree-lined draw.  Echo was working the bottom when two roosters busted at about 25 yards.  Tree limbs obstructed my shooting angle, but I managed to get one clean round off.  It was the most difficult shot of the day, and I actually connected!  Echo moved with purpose towards the downed bird 30 yards from my position.  We made our recovery, and took a moment to reflect on what just occurred.  Bob and I continued to uncover birds during the rest of the walk.  Unfortunately, we failed to capitalize on the opportunities presented.

Oneal’s buddy, Mark, r20161120_185901emoved both trucks with his tractor, and we eventually made our way to the next field.  The rest of the guys arrived throughout the day.  We hunted a bunch of private land, and managed to locate birds in every field.  The weekend at the Lenz Family Farms proved to be epic.  Pheasants and quail were abundant, and we were able to harvest our share.

My friends and I have done this trip for 5 years.  This season marked the first time we were able to witness large numbers of birds thriving in an ideal environment.  Hopefully, the weather continues to cooperate, and wildlife habitat preservation remains a priority.
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Video Highlights from the 2016 Pradera
Upland Hunt

Product

Comment

Pheasants Forever Colorado I will continue to get more involved in our local chapter.
Echo We love our puppy. Great at home and in the field.
SportDOG Upland Hunter 1875 Used the collar for years.  Rugged, effective and dependable.
MobileStrong Has become a must have product for me.  Evaluate it.
SoundGear I can hear birds get up many yards away + the protection.  Great!
HEVI-SHOT Average shooting will get the bird on the ground.  Lethal ammo.
OnXmaps Public or private land hunt, this is a great tool for all outdoorsmen.
Orvis ToughShell Jacket/Pants Best upland clothing I have ever worn.
Irish Setter DSS King Toe Boots After 3 years, still my favorite pair.
Benelli Ethos Expensive, but dependable and accurate. Archer not the bow.
Pelican™ Weapons Case Rifle or shotgun, this case provides protection and security.  A must for the traveling hunter.

 

Opportunistic

I arrived at the Cage Ranch just before 1 pm on the third day of Colorado’s deer rifle season.  It was 86 degrees, and a 20 mile per hour dusty wind was blowing from the southwest.  These were hardly optimal conditions for deer hunting. Recognizing that any and all deer would be bedded down, I decided the best strategy would be to slowly walk through the dense cottonwood trees that border the dry creek.  The sand on the creek is cool, and the banks provide shelter from the strong wind.  It took me 45 minutes to make my way to the eastern fence line of the Shipping Trap pasture.  I took a circuitous route in order ensure I did not alert any animal of my presence.  As I walked north over the hill that sits above the creek, I paused to glass the area.  Almost immediately I saw a whitetail doe and fawn resting in the tall grass.  They saw me but did not startle.  When I finally made my way to the edge of the creek, I used a single tree as cover and looked west.  There was a buck in the middle of the arid riverbed.  He was too far away to make out his exact size, but he was worth a closer look.  Slowly, I backed away from the creek, and then I navigated my way to the position where I thought he was resting.  My estimation on his position proved accurate, as I found myself staring at his back at 30 yards.  He eventually turned his head when he caught my wind.  It took him about 5 seconds to process the situation before jumping up and bolting northwest.  As he made his way over the far bank, he frightened another young buck who also joined in the run.  Recognizing that the plan was appropriate given the circumstances, I worked my way down the tree line, glassing every 40 or 50 yards.  As I approached a second clearing, I noticed what I thought were antlers just above the grass 100 yards in front of me. A few minutes later the adolescent buck jumped up and ran southwest.  His movement startled a group of deer a few hundred yards away.  It was easy to make out the lone buck in the group galloping towards the neighbor’s property.  While I could not make out the rack configuration, it was obvious he was a big dude.  Sticking with the strategy, I went back to the creek to continue my methodical westerly walk.  It did not take long to see another buck staring at me from a position under a dead tree.  He stood up and 8 does followed.  All of the deer looked at me, then simultaneously turned their heads left. Realizing that there was another deer, I moved back to my right, and witnessed a large buck walking away from me.  I put my crosshairs on his shoulder and contemplated my next move.  I took the safety off my rifle, but I decided against pulling the trigger.  Energized by my frequent engagements, I crossed the creek in order to hunt the northern section of the pasture.  It did not take long to notice a big bodied deer standing on his back legs feeding on the buds of a tall shrub.  Realizing he was a shooter, I extended my monopod, and powered my scope to 12.  The buck was just over 200 yards away, and I could tell that he had both mass as well as width.  I had the wind in my favor, so I had time to establish a solid rest.  A single shot knocked the buck to the ground.

I planned to spend 4 days hunting the Cage Ranch.  While I am thrilled with my buck, I was disappointed that the chase ended so quickly.  The process surrounding the hunt is as exciting as the moment of truth.

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Product Comment
Styrka S7 Binoculars Great optics in all conditions. A must to evaluate if you’re in the market.
Styrka S7 Riflescope Great scope at this price point.
Primos Trigger Stick Easy to use and stable.
Badlands Stealth Pack High quality with lots of useful pockets.
Pelican™ Weapons Case Amazing protection for your rifle/shotgun.  Bulletproof.
Knives of Alaska Light Hunter Suregrip + Havalon Piranta Edge does the job.
Truck Storage My Mobile Strong unit is invaluable for keeping me organized.
SoundGear The ultimate hearing protection + digital audio enhancement.

 

 

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