In the coming weeks, the 2017 Colorado hunting 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, removed 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.
|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.|
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.
|Muzzleloader – CVA 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|