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.
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 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.
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.|
New Year’s Eve means two things at this point in my life; a vacation day and the eve of my oldest son’s birthday. Gone are the days of big parties, a few too many cocktails and staying up all night. To that point, I planned an early morning bird hunting trip to my favorite Walk in Areas in Eastern Colorado. My lofty goal was to have my limit by early afternoon, and be back in time for a celebratory family dinner. Jeremy, Kessler, Pride and I loaded up at five a.m. and hit the road.
Upon arriving at the first field at 8 a.m., we noticed tire tracks in the six inches of recently fallen snow. After closer inspection, it looked as though the hunter only covered the northern part of the long CRP field the prior day. We moved to the southern edge, and worked the dogs west. Our thirty minute walk produced one hen that was sitting tight on the edge of a large corn field. Disappointed that we did not see more birds, I made a phone call to a local rancher who allows me to hunt his property. Ron recently moved into a new home, but he still has access to the land he leased for years. He asked us not to hunt the northern switchgrass strips, as his cousins were coming out to hunt in January. After thanking him profusely, we hastily made our way to the prime area. Just to the north of the house, there is a one hundred and fifty yard shelterbelt that always has a few birds hiding within the junipers. Leaving Pride in his crate, Jeremy, Kessler and I pinched the tree row from the east and west. Weaving through the eight foot trees, we worked our way toward one another. As I focused on the cover to my left, I heard a bird get up behind me then a successive shot. The plan worked as Jeremy bagged the first rooster of the day.
Given the explicit direction of the rancher, we drove to the southern edge of the property and unloaded. The cover is pristine; deep grass abutting corn. Additionally, no one had hunted the land in over a month. Leaving Pride in the truck, Jeremy, Kessler and I worked our way west keeping about twenty five yards between us. Pheasant tracks became evident just off the county road. I anticipated birds were running to evade their pursuers. Without warning, dozens of pheasants started to flush wild. My first instinct was to sprint to the action, but experience told me to be patient. I was rewarded minutes later with a dozen birds jumping up within twenty five yards. I selected a lone rooster moving into the cornfield and fired three unsuccessful shots. Disappointed in my performance, I reloaded my Benelli Ethos and marched forward. Cursing at my inability to execute, I tried to focus on immediate improvement. Literally dozens of pheasants continued to get up about seventy five yards from our position. Jeremy and I commented on the incredible scene taking place in front of us. The bird population in Eastern Colorado is recovering, and it was now evident. About three quarters of the way into the field I stopped. A nervous hen flew into the cornfield followed by a lone rooster flying away to the west. A single HEVI-SHOT round took him down, and Kessler made the retrieve. With a bird in my Orvis Upland Sling Pack we worked our way to the far western edge of the field. Realizing that we were pushing birds, I picked up my pace in order to ensure that our prey would not escape into the adjacent cornfield. As I turned the corner, I saw a rooster sprinting back into the thick ironweed. I yelled to Jeremy as the pheasant took flight. He made a perfect swing, and downed the bird with one proficient shot.
We made a decision to walk back to the east, as we did not want to disturb the acreage close to headquarters. It did not take long before a rooster jumped out of the tall grass and took flight. My first shell missed to his left, but my follow up shot knocked the bird out of the air. We witnessed more pheasants taking flight, but none that encouraged a shot.
It was lunchtime, so we decided to visit friends in the area as we had Christmas gifts.