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Rookie

Hunting is difficult. For people who were not born into a hunting family, or had a mentor early in life, there are many challenges associated with taking up the sport. Despite the fact that I started hunting in my 40s, I have been able to learn quickly because of patient and thoughtful friends. It is now time to pay it forward.

DJ and I met freshmen year of high school, and became great friends. We don’t get to spend much time together as he lives in Florida with his family.  Our lives have fundamentally changed over the last 35 years, but our bond has never lapsed.  Over the last couple of years, DJ has expressed a real interest in hunting.  To that point, I invited him to spend a few days with Echo and me pursuing birds in the eastern plains of Colorado.

Even the most veteran of upland hunters will tell you that it is hard to kill a pheasant.  Wild roosters are wily, and they know how to avoid predators.  No matter how stealthy you are, pheasants seem to detect your presence just seconds before you are able to raise your weapon.  Not dissimilar to golf, if you’re slightly off the mark that day, poor shooting will undermine your success.  If you factor in DJ’s novice shotgun skills, and the warm, windy conditions, the odds of him harvesting a cock during our trip was low.

The first field of the day proved to be exactly what we needed to start our hunt.  The initial walk in area (WIA) had 10 birds hunkered down in the tumble weeds next to a corn field.  Echo easily found them, but we did not get a shot at a rooster.  Despite our failure to take a bird, DJ got to feel the excitement associated with flushing pheasants.  Our adrenaline was pumping and I hoped we would have another encounter before the end of the day. As we approached the next WIA, we watched from a distance, three roosters eating gravel off the road.  We hid the truck behind haybales that were adjacent to the field, and told Echo to hunt it up.  She took advantage of a strong northwest wind as we approached the grass-covered irrigation equipment.  It did not take long before Echo picked up the scent of the birds.  I told DJ to position himself on the northern side of the cover.  The first rooster busted from his position, and I shot him at 20 yards.  More roosters followed, but DJ did not feel comfortable with his shooting options.  With a bird in my pack we kept moving west, allowing Echo to venture in and out of the dense CRP.  As we neared the end of the quarter section, Echo became birdy.  Just as I told DJ to be ready, a rooster busted from his position on the northern side of the irrigation apparatus.  The 20-mph wind hit the bird’s plumage, and he started to sail south.  I heard DJ take a shot, and saw the load impact the rooster’s right side, sending the bird into a downward tumble.  I hollered to the heavens as I knew DJ had just taken his first ever wild pheasant! Echo retrieved the downed rooster, and delivered it to DJ.  I congratulated my friend as we both realized that our objective had been accomplished.

I was not a bird hunter when DJ and I met years ago.  In fact, I did not pursue game until my early 40s. I was thrilled to share my passion for the uplands with my friend.  I can confidently say that he will be back.

Video – Our Pheasant Hunt in Eastern, Colorado

Echo – Season 2

I listen to veteran wing-shooters talk about that one dog they own or owned that is special.   They describe a dog that instinctively works in harmony with them.  Beyond locating and retrieving evasive birds, the dog understands how to put their partner in a position for a successful shot.

This is my 7th year in the field, and Echo is my second gundog.  We adopted our first gundog, Pride, when his original owner passed away. He was 7, and had already spent many days in the field.  Pride’s initial reaction when I tried to hunt with him was to run to the truck.  His bond with Dick was obvious, and it took time to build trust with him. Pride and I had 4 great hunting seasons together, and he seemed to always salvage a difficult hunt by locating a deceptive rooster as the day was ending.

Echo is my first gundog that we are raising as a puppy. 2016 was our first season together, and she performed admirably from the start.  She was not even one, when I shot my first wild pheasant over her.  We spent many days in the field last year, and in all types of conditions.  The one characteristic that I noticed from day one, is that she always looks to see where I am positioned. She never catches a scent, and takes off in a futile chase to locate a running rooster. Echo  is a quick study and intuitively hunts within my shooting range.  She seems to understand my limitations, and works to get me a makeable shot.  Echo possess an accurate nose, incredible speed, and a high prey drive.   She will hunt from dawn to dusk with a never-quit attitude.

I don’t have enough experience to confidently state that Echo is a once in a lifetime gundog.  That said, she is proving to be everything I want in a hunting companion.

Video of Our Second Upland Trip of the 2017 – 2018 Season

Living Life

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!

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