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.
In the coming weeks, the 2017 Coloradohunting 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.
In July, I found out that I drew an antlered deer tag for the Cage Ranch. Almost immediately, I started to envision a big buck making the fatal mistake of walking into my crosshairs. Where on the creek would I hunt? Would I pursue the deer from a stand or on the ground? What new equipment would I need? What is the longest shot I am comfortable taking? Preparation would be critical if I was going to successfully execute in 2014.
In early September, Bob and I set up stands and a trail camera in a seemingly prime spot just off the dry creek. We used the flatbed truck and a heavy chain to tear down two big limbs that prohibited a clean line of sight to the left/right of the shooting platform. Once the job was complete, we took a few doves that were buzzing through the trees.
The trail camera pictures over the next six weeks were revealing. The photographs displayed numerous bucks frequently patrolling the area that I would eventually hunt. Some of the deer had large bodies and displayed magnificent racks. In 2013, I took a respectable 113 inch, 5×5 3 ½ year old muley. Many of the deer we were looking at were larger and that was exciting.
At noon October 24th, I started my two hour journey to the ranch. Bob informed me that some personal reasons would prohibit him from joining me on my hunt. Admittedly, I was a bit anxious as Bob has been mentoring me over the last few years. His big game tutelage has been essential in transforming me into a better sportsman. Furthermore, Bob is a good guy and I would miss the friendship.
The ride to the ranch allowed me to think out my strategy for the weekend. The weather forecast promised highs in the upper eighties. These were unseasonably warm temperatures for eastern Colorado. I theorized the heat would have deer moving when it was dark, and bedding down only a short time after the sun rose. To that point, I would be in my stand before 5:00 am and wait. If I did not have a positive encounter, I would walk the Shipping Trap pasture and employ a spot/stalk approach.
When I arrived at the ranch, I immediately drove to my trail camera to review the pictures taken over the last three weeks. Sitting in my running truck, I opened the files. Unlike the September pictures, there were only two photographs taken. One picture was that of a young buck moving at dawn, and the other of a coyote. I was not discouraged or deterred, and was committed to my plan.
The excitement of the forthcoming day had me up and ready to go at 3:00 am. I was by myself and that provided me the freedom to quickly have my coffee, and make my final preparations to head to the creek. The walk from the pasture gate to the creek was one mile, and my Garmin GPS loaded with onXmaps, guided me to the stand. The temperature was forty two degrees, and my pace along with my Under Armour Ridge Reaper clothing kept me warm. Once in the stand, I removed my Badlands Stealth pack and took out the essential equipment that included my Vortex Diamondback binoculars and my Leupold RX-1000i TBR rangefinder. Despite the bright stars in the sky, I could not see much of anything. At about 6:15 am, I thought I picked up movement near the trees in front of me. Putting my binoculars to my eyes, I observed a big bodied deer at fifty yards moving east. He actually slowed down when he got to my right, and methodically turned toward my position. Because he was so close, I was able to hone in on his rack. He was a symmetrical 5×5, with wide main beams and prominent eye guards. He was absolutely bigger than the deer I shot last season. I contemplated if he was what I was looking for this year. It was 6:40 am and the legal shooting time was minutes away. The buck moved back to the southwest actually walking twenty two yards in front of me; exposing his entire left flank. I gripped my Tikka T3 Lite, but did not chamber a round. I watched the deer plod along, eventually disappearing in the high grass beyond the property line. I immediately second guessed my decision to let him go, but hoped I would be rewarded with a bigger animal.
Later in the morning, I witnessed a small buck quickly moving north as well as a few does making their way to the adjacent property. At 9:00 am, the temperature was seventy eight degrees, and my gut told me the deer had stopped moving. I got out of the stand and prepared to conduct a systematic spot/stalk strategy. From my position, the Shipping Trap pasture extends two miles to the northeast. The dense tree line would provide me the necessary cover to keep a low profile as I glassed every fifty yards. As I approached the last ¼ mile, I made my way across the creek. An unfavorable wind had picked up, and I was afraid it would reveal my position to any deer in the vicinity. Realizing I was making noise due to the dry tumbleweeds I was stepping on, I decided to stop and glass. A doe popped up and looked back at me at about one hundred and twenty five yards. She was joined by a small buck with ½ his rack missing. They both simultaneously turned away from me, and headed toward the east end of the property. I waited a few minutes to see if they had company, but there was no movement. As I approached the next clearing, three does jumped to their feet at thirty yards. A magnificent buck then unfolded from the tall grass and stood staring right at me. All of the blood in my body rushed to my head as I dropped to my knee, put my rifle in my bipod and chambered a round. While I was attempting to engage, four additional does rose up, and immediately ran to the west. The buck quickly followed them. I put my crosshairs on him at about seventy five yards, but he was so fast I was unable to make an ethical shot. I sat down to collect myself, and watched the three original does follow the rest of the herd to the west. Realizing I was ill prepared for that type of encounter, I began to curse myself for not having a round chambered. I am confident with my Tikka, and I know I could have pulled an accurate offhand shot at thirty yards. I stared my buck in the eyes, and failed to execute on a phenomenal opportunity.
I made my way back to the stand at 3:00 pm. With temperatures nearing ninety degrees, I was not hopeful for the late afternoon hunt. I stayed with it until dark, but did not witness a single deer.
I was absolutely amped for the morning hunt. The daytime temperature would force the deer to be on the move early in the morning. If I was to have a chance at a big buck, it would have to come at first light. At 6:00 am, even though it was very dark out, I started to frequently glass my surroundings. At about ten after, I picked up a big deer at about eighty yards moving quickly to the west. He was a buck but I could not determine the rack size, and he was not sticking around. At about 6:45 am, I was able to clearly see my surroundings. Kneeling on my stand, I looked straight behind the platform to the south. I saw some slight movement and witnessed a lone buck feeding in the grass. My Leupold rangefinder had him at one hundred and fifty yards, and I put my binoculars on him to get an idea of size. He was another 5×5, but was smaller than the one I passed up Saturday morning. While his size was disappointing, I was excited at the early action. I spent the next hour watching two bucks and three does feeding in the neighbors pasture. They were too far to estimate their size, but I would have liked to see them up close. A lone doe ran down the middle of the creek heading west so I prepared for additional deer but it did not happen. Minutes before I was going to exit the stand, I picked up movement in the trees to my east. It was a young buck making his way right to me. I snapped a couple of pictures when he was just twenty feet away.
My late morning stalk had me taking an alternate route to the clearing where I saw the big stud and his ladies. Unfortunately, they picked me up early and scattered before I could get a clean look. I still pursued them, but they seemingly disappeared on me. The temperature was in the upper eighties and I realized that any chance of success would have to come late Sunday. To that point, I laid out a plan for the late afternoon hunt. I would bisect the pasture and glass for activity. With a little luck, I would spot a buck and then begin my pursuit. I sat on a hill that provides a great vantage point of the Shipping Trap pasture and started to glass the area. Admittedly my patience is limited, so I decided to see if I could create movement by moving myself. Three hours of walking brought me to the realization that I would not take a deer in 2014.
Whether you are hunting or fishing, all you ask for is an opportunity. That occurred Saturday at about 10:15 am. Unfortunately, my inexperience negated my chance in achieving the stated goal. The ride home was filled with vivid memories of a fantastic hunting weekend at the Cage Ranch. Like any competitor, I wish for a future encounter with the buck that managed to evade me.
The first of my two tags on the Cage Ranch was filled on October 5th. It was a spectacular morning, filled with complex emotions. The initial anxiety resulted in overwhelming elation. My pronghorn hunt was a unique life experience forever etched in my memories.
October 26th was opening day of deer rifle season, and I had been preparing for months. Bob and I had done some scouting during September and early October. The north part of the ranch has a dry creek meandering from west to east. There are cottonwoods and tall grass that provide dense cover for the animals that roam its sandy bottom. Along with seeing multiple photographs of deer on our game cameras, we had witnessed a variety of does and bucks as we glassed the area from afar. Bob had set up two tree stands on the west and east end of the riverbed, which provided 270 degrees access to all animals that patrolled the vicinity.
A 4:30 am alarm was set on my iPhone, but I was already up at 4:15 am, and getting prepared for a successful day. A coffee and a METRX protein bar would be my fuel for the hunt. Bob’s nephew Paul and I left headquarters in the pitch black and slowly made our way to our pasture. We parked about a mile from the west stand, and utilized my Garmin GPS to guide us to the specific tree. As 5:15 am approached we climbed the ladder, and situated ourselves in the elevated position. Paul would scan to our left, and I would focus to the rear and right. It was 26 degrees and there was a cold northwesterly wind blowing at 15mph. It didn’t take long for my hands to become numb as I had foolishly left my gloves in the truck. At about 6 am, the sun offered enough light where we could start to glass for movement. As I turned to the rear, I spotted five does making their way west. As if they marked my position, the deer suddenly bolted to the south, and were out of view in seconds. I questioned whether they picked up my scent, and if I was unintentionally giving away my location. The visibility was improving at 6:30 am, so my glassing become more frequent. I picked up movement in the trees to my right. When I trained my binoculars on the image, I witnessed a big bodied deer making its way along the creek. There was no question it was a buck; I just needed to determine if it was a shooter. As he made his way across the creek, I could see that his antlers were outside his ears. He was a very respectable 5×5, and I decided that I would take this animal. For the next 10 minutes, the buck refused to provide me a shot. Patience paid off when he turned to his right, exposing his vitals to me. I chambered a round and clicked the safety to the off position. My crosshairs were situated on is left shoulder, and I slowly pulled the trigger. The buck dropped in his tracks at ninety eight yards. My first deer was down, and I was ecstatic.
At 10:30 am, we reconvened at headquarters. The celebration included a big breakfast, and exchanging stories of the morning events. We relaxed around the house and prepared for the afternoon hunt.
Brent, Bob’s brother-in-law, would take his daughter back to the east stand, and Paul would man the west platform. Bob and I had a different plan. We decided to employ a spot and stalk strategy and quickly cover ground. After walking Paul to the west stand, we made our way south to see if we could locate a buck in the plains.
Bob does a great job describing the afternoon events.
The interesting thing is that I’ve spent my entire life on this ranch guiding pronghorn hunts, and have never bothered to get a license for myself for any big game animals. I decided that I would this year, and only try to fill the tag if Ross got his deer. Ross ultimately shot his deer at first light on the opening morning. His is a beautiful, very symmetrical 5×5. A trophy for sure.
I glassed the initial buck from about a mile away as he departed a cattle stock tank. While were putting the sneak on him, we inadvertently walked by a doe about 120 yards to our left. She didn’t run so I didn’t think we were busted. We never had a clear line of site on the buck due to tall grass and rolling hills. In fact, we could only see his rack, and we agreed he was a shooter. Unfortunately we bumped him and he bolted with his doe to the east. We waited for him to crest over an adjacent ridge, and then we sprinted 500 yards with the hope he wouldn’t move out of range. Unfortunately his speed put him about a mile away by the time we reached our spot. We sat in that position and glassed the entire landscape until deciding to run back to the truck in order to continue the pursuit. Our plan would be to drive around to the far side of the pasture and cut him off. While contemplating our next move, I saw a coyote at about 100 yards. I decided not to shoot him as I didn’t want that report to echo across the pasture. This decision was fortuitous, and led to our ultimate success. On the way back, I felt the vibration of my phone signal that I had a voice message. I decided to return the call en route to the truck. While walking back, I was quickly yanked to the ground by Ross. Remember the doe that was gazing at us when we started our stalk? Well, she didn’t leave and she had a suitor. He saw us but seemed indifferent as he purposely quartered away from us. I put the phone on speaker, and dropped it in the sand, while shouldering Ross’ rifle (yes, I forgot the ammo to my gun). I whispered to the friend on the other end of the line to, “shut up and don’t say a word!” Ross just about came unglued when he put his binoculars on the deer, and saw that this was a lifetime buck. I quickly put the barrel in the BIPOD shooting sticks and shot him in the right shoulder. The deer staggered to the right; he was obviously sick. I placed the crosshairs on his quartering away shoulder and squeezed off another round. This bullet entered his right hind quarter and must have found its way to the vitals. He dropped like a sack of hammers.
I’ve traveled all over North America hunting; white tail and quail in South Texas, bear in the boundary waters of Minnesota, deer and elk in New Mexico and Arizona and even moose in The Yukon. Not once have I turned in a landowner voucher for myself on my own property. I’d much rather donate these vouchers to friends, soldiers, Wounded Warriors and youths. I’m so happy that it worked out the way it did. Having Ross spot that deer, and be there for the harvest after his success early in the day, is truly a memory that will never be forgotten.
Bob Cage is a good man. He donates his land, money, expertise and time to people who might never get an opportunity to experience the outdoors. His success provided me a tremendous amount of excitement and personal satisfaction. I am proud to say that I was with Bob when he harvested his first big game animal on his own ranch.
I made a scope change 10 days before my pronghorn hunt. That shot was very challenging (270 yards in high winds) and ultimately successful. My deer was shot at 98 yards, and I had plenty of time to wait for the right shot. In low-light conditions, the scope worked very well.
This was the second time I employed an entire Under Armour outfit. Saturday morning was really cold (26 degrees) and very windy. My body and feet remained warm even though we were stationary in the stand for over 2 hours. I wish that I had not forgotten my UA gloves in the truck as my hands were frozen.
The Speed Freek boots remain extremely comfortable and warm. No blisters to date.
When Bob and I put the stalk on his deer in the afternoon, the day had warmed and the wind had calmed. We did a lot of running during the pursuit, and the UA fabric kept the sweat away from my body. I never felt chilled when the sun finally set.
The UA fabric is very flexible and seems durable. I want to wear this clothing on a future elk hunt in the mountains of Colorado.
These are a great set of binoculars at an ideal price point. The early morning was dark, and I could still pick up the deer in low light conditions. It was easy to distinguish the specifics of the rack at 100 yards+. I am going to eventually step up and purchase the Viper HD binoculars. Two of my buddies have the 15x50s, and they are remarkable.
Great concept. That said, the knife was not sharp out of the box. I should have put an edge on it prior to the hunt. I wish the knife was manufactured in the United States. My deer was gutted in less than 20 minutes.
I grew up watching Jimmy Houston, Hank Parker, Roland Martin and Bill Dance. These television personalities became my mentors as my family and friends did not fish or hunt. It was relatively easy to learn to fish. My hometown of Swampscott, Massachusetts had half-dozen ponds that were untouched and loaded with bass. I could walk the water with a variety of lures and catch fish. The ocean was in close proximity, so surf-fishing became a regular activity as I got older. Thanks to Mr. Tom Mann, I was able to participate in a few tournaments down south. While I did not have success in these events, it certainly fueled my passion for continued involvement in the outdoors.
Learning to hunt was not effortless as extensive firearm training is vital before you can enter the field. Unfortunately, that guidance was not readily available in the suburbs of Boston, so I had to suppress my desire to participate in the sport for another fifteen years.
In my late twenties, my good friend Scott Tynan and his pals in Michigan introduced me to rabbit hunting. The training was brief and clear; keep the shotgun barrel pointed away from your fellow hunters, and don’t shoot the dogs. Scott’s friends taught me how to clean my rabbits, and an old cookbook provided the recipe for my first stew. This introduction was only a teaser as there seemed to be an invisible barrier prohibiting my continued involvement.
A job took my family to Colorado in the winter of 2008. Soon after my arrival, my buddy Bob Coyle, offered to help me purchase my first shotgun. The Google search engine is an important tool when seeking out what to do next. I was thrilled to discover that there is a local upland preserve & sporting clays range less than thirty minutes from my house. I bought a membership, obtained some tutelage from a local professional and started practicing.
In the summer of 2010 I completed my hunter safety course, and later that year, adopted my gundog Pride. Over the last three years, we have regularly hunted pheasants in Eastern Colorado and Kansas. My friend, Chad Cadwell, has graciously invited me to duck hunt with him on his prodigious lease in Weld County. I have put in for big game tags each year but have come up short; until 2013. With permission from my friend Bob Cage, I applied for tags on his ranch in Wild Horse, Colorado. Amazingly, I drew both a pronghorn and deer tag.
Preparation for the Pronghorn hunt involved multiple, and essential steps over an extended period of time. Step one was to acquire all of the appropriate equipment and knowledge that would lead to a successful hunt (see below). I leveraged the web and experienced hunters as resources. Step two was to get trained on how to properly shoot my rifle.
Over the summer, I had Cabela’s bore-sight my rifle in order to get me near paper. It was then time to visit the range in order to solidify my shooting confidence. In three sessions, we managed to achieve a 1.5 inch grouping at 100 yards. That would put me in the kill zone at 200 yards, even if conditions were less than ideal.
On the afternoon of October 4th, Chad Cadwell and I made our way southeast to the Cage Ranch. Chad is a friend and veteran hunter who offered me his years of experience on my hunt. We met Bob, Eric Rosel and his son Kelly at headquarters. Eric also had a pronghorn tag to fill, and for the first time, he would be introducing Kelly to the sport of hunting. Some cocktails, and a few hunting stories lead to incredible anticipation for the following day’s events. Right before bed, I took a close look at my tag, and realized that my units were not the optimal areas on the ranch to hunt pronghorns. I would be sequestered to the northeast where the tree lined habitat caters more to the mule and whitetail deer population. Despite a new heightened level of anxiety, I managed to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before the 5:30 am wake up call.
The Saturday strategy was simple; we would get Eric his animal first, then it would be my turn. We purposefully traveled the ranch in Bob’s Ford F150; each of us glassing for pronghorn activity. The early morning produced a few prodigious mule deer sightings, but no pronghorn. Once we did spot a herd of speed goats, we stopped the truck, and started to pursue them on foot. The rut was on, and it became evident that the bucks were in hot pursuit of any and all females. As we climbed over a ridge, we could see the lone male rounding up his chosen mates. Bob signaled to Eric to ready himself for a shot. Unexpectedly, the buck initiated a determined sprint, and made a beeline directly at our position on the opposite ridge. Eric repositioned himself, in an attempt to get the appropriate angle on the moving animal. The pronghorn actually crested the ridge and then pulled an immediate 180 when he saw Bob’s parked truck. Bob stood up and waived his hands in order to attempt to make the animal stop. At two hundred and fifty yards the buck paused and looked back at us. Eric steadied his aim, and shot him in the shoulder. We celebrated the moment together; it was textbook execution and a clean kill. Eric, Bob and Chad field dressed the animal, and we headed back to headquarters to hang him in the barn.
It was now my turn to hunt. I was a bit anxious as we headed to my units. Hopefully we would see animals, and my preparation would allow me to perform under pressure. As we made our way back down the road, I stopped Bob so we could glass where I would be hunting. I quickly picked up four white bellies, but could not discern if a buck was present. Opening day of rifle season presents issues for Bob and his team. Trespassers regularly slip onto his land, and that can present safety issues when there are many people hunting his property. To that point, we inspected a truck that had illegally parked on the one of the main roads. In order rectify the situation; telephone calls were placed to the appropriate people.
Bob could sense that I was a becoming increasingly edgy, so he took us back to the fields. We headed to the general area where we had seen the four pronghorns from across the road. After emptying out of the vehicle, we began a quiet jog to the nearest hillside. The group cautiously peered over the edge of the ridge to see if we could spot the herd. Bob signaled for us to get low as he spotted the animals grazing to our right. He told me that there was a shooter-buck, and I needed to get prepared. I began an army crawl in order to seek a better vantage point where I could set up for a shot. Bob told me that the male was to my right, and standing at two hundred and thirty yards. I carefully put the rifle in the bipod, and got to my knees. The pronghorn herd immediately spotted my movement and started to run to the south. The male isolated himself from the others, and dashed forty yards to the west. He unexpectedly stopped and turned back towards us. Bob whispered “he is at two hundred and seventy yards” so I put the crosshairs behind his right shoulder and slowly squeezed the trigger. Despite the recoil of the rifle, I was able to watch the buck through my scope drop straight to the ground. An intense feeling of elation overcame me as I had just fulfilled a lifelong dream. I celebrated the accomplishment with my fellow hunters, and thanked them for their guidance.
Participating in outdoor conservation is a privilege and requires many personal responsibilities. Getting involved takes time, patience, commitment and direction. I am proof that it is never too late to participate. I look forward to paying it forward to younger generations of hunters and fisherman.
Under Armour has and continues to manufactures great products. The question I had was whether the quality would translate into their hunting line. It does. Saturday started off chilly (29 degrees) and very windy, and I barely noticed the conditions. As the day warmed, and we started to pursue the animals on foot, I dropped the jacket. I ordered size large in all products and the clothing fit me perfectly.
The Speed Freek boots are extremely comfortable, and did not need a break in period. I stepped on a lot of cactus and yucca trees, and felt nothing on my feet. I hope these boots hold up over time as I really like them.
UA base layers are and have always been the best. Their technology and comfort continue to improve over time.