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 just about 10 months, I will turn 50 years old. While my personal demise does not preoccupy my daily thoughts, it is hard to avoid the reality of the situation. If I am lucky, I have 25 to 30 years left on the planet. That being the case, I have a lot that I want to accomplish in a short period of time. In no specific order, here are some of the things that I will do before the lights go out. If possible, I would like to experience many of these quests with my wife and 2 sons.
Learn to Play a Guitar – As a lifelong metalhead, I have and continue to admire the musical abilities of Tony Iommi, Randy Rhodes, Eddie Van Halen and Darrell Abbott. On July 29th, I will take a guitar lesson from Kyle Shutt. Kyle is a founding member of the band, The Sword. He is a talented and accomplished artist who kindly agreed to mentor me. I am not sure if I can learn to play the guitar, but I am going to try.
Own and Operate a Company – I have been an employee for almost 30 years. I appreciate the majority of my employers, and the opportunities they have provided me. That said, I want to own my own company. It does not matter what type of company. My years of business experience, coupled with a desire to collaborate with focused and committed people, will ensure the success of this company. It is only a matter of time before I discover the right opportunity.
Hunt a Bull Elk – When I think of hunting the Western half of the United States, the first animal that I think of is an elk. I want to put my evolving predator skills to the test, and challenge myself both mentally and physically. The good news is that I live in a Colorado where elk run wild. Admittedly, this hunt intimidates me given my inexperience, and the intense planning & preparation involved. It would be ideal if I could recruit a veteran big game hunter like Randy Newberg, Nate Simmons or Steven Rinella to provide me their professional insight. If I am unable to convince a seasoned veteran to assist me, I will figure it out on my own. Ty (12) is ready to complete his hunter safety course, and Jesse (10) is less than 2 years away. They will make fine hunting partners sometime soon.
Fly Fish New Zealand – I want to catch big, native trout in a majestic environment. Videos I watch validate that those who fly fish New Zealand have opportunities to engage monster fish. I am told that these fish don’t receive consistent pressure, and they are not shy when it comes to attacking a fly. In addition to working on my casting proficiency, I will begin to train Ty and Jesse on fly fishing basics. They already have the angling bug, it is now time to evolve our skills.
Hunt Pheasants in South Dakota – My favorite activity in life is bird hunting. If there is a mecca for upland hunters, it is the state of South Dakota. Friends have told me that the birds are so thick, it can be difficult to pick a rooster out to shoot. Echo, my gundog, is 18 months old. She and I enjoyed many adventures during her first year in the field. Echo and I are ready for the 8-hour ride to rooster paradise.
Golf Ireland (again) – Back in 2000, some friends and I golfed the east coast of Ireland. We had the time of our lives. The landscape is incredible, the people are kind and the courses are historic. It is time to go back, and do it again with a true appreciation for the experience. To do the trip with my sons and wife would make it ideal.
Write a Book – I need to figure out the general subject matter, then go for it. It would be great if the book was commercially successful, but that is not my motivation. I want it to be good, and I cannot continue to procrastinate. Tim Ferriss says to write “two crappy pages a day”. That does not seem insurmountable.
Offer Help – I try to lead a selfless, generous and empathetic life. That said, when I do the occasional candid self-evaluation, I realize that I don’t do enough for others. Of course, I try to extend myself for family and friends. That is generally easy because I love the person that I am helping. What I am talking about is being proactively available to strangers. Actually, assisting people I don’t know. I am passionate about upland hunting. Despite my relative newness to the sport, I am 100% engaged. There are many people that dream about walking a grassy field, alongside a bird dog, with a chance to mount a shotgun at a cackling rooster. Many of those people might never get that opportunity. Perhaps I can be the person that will introduce them to an unforgettable moment.
As time progresses, I will hopefully minimize this list. When inspired, I will add ambitious life objectives to it. When I accomplish a feat, I will opine on it in writing. Completing this article commits me to the journey. Let’s go!
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 tag, I will put in even more time on the range. Shooting with iron sights is difficult, and situational practice is a necessity.
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.
About ten days before opening day of pronghorn rifle season, Bob told me that a couple of his hunters had not redeemed their landowner vouchers. He asked me if I would like to exchange one of the vouchers for a tag, and hunt opening day weekend. Realizing that his question was rhetorical, I started my preparation for the unanticipated adventure to his ranch. Our friends, Dave and Chad, had tags of their own, and they were equally as excited to pursue the elusive “speed goat”.
Opening day coincided with both of my sons’ state soccer tournament. To that point, my departure from Parker would come in the early evening on Saturday. During the boys’ soccer games, I received regular texts of videos of Bob and Chad’s hunt. Having personally taken part in similar stalks last season, I became anxious, even though I was 130 miles from the ranch.
The early evening drive to the eastern plains was interrupted by a flurry of text messages. After pulling over to fill up the tank on my Ram 1500, I read the texts. Chad had taken an enormous pronghorn buck! I was so excited, I stopped filling up the tank jumped in my truck, and rocketed down route 86.
Upon arriving in pronghorn camp, stories of the day’s events unfolded. Bob and Chad described multiple pursuits throughout the morning that resulted in fleeing animals. Finally, late in the afternoon, they were able to get on a herd of goats that contained a big buck. The chase pushed the group of pronghorn to the edge of Chad’s shooting comfort range. Setting up at about a three hundred and twenty yards, Chad was able to knock down the animal with a shot from his 7mm Mag. The reminiscing continued until complete exhaustion forced us all into our beds.
The game plan in the morning centered on getting Dave on his first big game animal. He worked on sighting in his new Tikka T3 Lite late in the afternoon on Saturday. He even was able to chase a few animals prior to the hunting day concluding. I was excited to help Dave get on a buck. At first light, I ventured to the range with Chad in order to ensure I was still shooting my Tikka T3 Lite 30-06 accurately. It only took four rounds to reassure me that my rifle, and Bushnell Elite scope were operating flawlessly.
At about 7 am we all grabbed our coffee and piled into Bob’s truck. It did not take long to spot a few pronghorn making their way east. A few minutes of glassing confirmed that the male was young and we would not pursue him. We worked hard to spot and stalk a few amazing bucks throughout the day. Unfortunately, we could not close the deal on a pronghorn with antlers. At about 4 pm, Dave declared he wanted to take a break, and directed me to take part in the next hunt. The day’s events already had my blood racing through my veins. With the rifle now in my hands, I got focused on the task at hand.
Bob’s brother-in-law, Brent, reported that he spotted a large group of pronghorn just to the southwest of headquarters. We were driving east when we spotted eight females about 100 yards off the road. They immediately picked their heads up and gazed at us. We realized that the buck was not present but was probably close by. As we continued to drive east, we saw the big buck about 150 yards away on a hill. He was chasing off a young male when we startled him. We stared at one another for about five minutes until he moved speedily off the hill in order to round up his ladies. There is a draw that moves to the south, and we assumed the herd was moving away from us. Protected by a number of hills on the back side of the depression, Bob and I jogged to where we last saw the buck. Realizing they were gone, we looked at one another and pointed to the east. With my rifle in my right hand, and my BOG-POD in my left, I started to sprint, using the ridge as cover. At about the five hundred yard mark, I was able to discreetly glance at the herd. I did not have my range finder, but I guessed they were 300 yards ahead of me. Acknowledging the distance was out of my range, I sprinted to the top of the next ridge. As I approached the crest, I attempted to slow my breathing. The adrenaline was flowing but I felt composed. I knew the shot would be far so I cranked up the power of my scope. I inched forward trying to be quiet. With the rifle already in the bipod, I took a knee, and quickly captured the buck in my crosshairs at about two hundred yards. I could see a few of the females turn, look up and take notice of my presence on top of the hill. To that point, I knew I had to act with purpose. As the buck moved left, he exposed his left shoulder, and I took the shot. The Barnes VOR-TX 168 grain bullet entered just below the neck and dropped him to the ground. I shouted with elation as I knew I had accomplished my objective. We made our way down the hill and congratulated one another. My successful hunt was the result of a total team effort. I thanked everyone for their help, and told them to get in the truck in order to find a buck for Dave.
Just before they departed, Bob gave me a quick gutting refresher. This pronghorn was only my third big game animal, so my cleaning techniques are rudimentary at best. It took me about forty five minutes to finish the process, and get him hung in the barn. I asked my friend John to drive me back to the boys so I could participate in Dave’s search for his animal. We managed to find a few sizable pronghorn, but could not complete the harvest.
As we sat on the tailgate of Bob’s truck, we admired the full moon overhead. The sun had dipped, but the air temperature was still in the 60s. Bob stated that this was his favorite time on the ranch. I understood why. While Dave was visibly disappointed, he recognized that the quest had been invigorating for his soul. He is committed to getting back into the field, and finishing the job next season.