Monday, September 1, 2014


Hunting is a significant part of our life.  I've been shooting guns since I was about 10 years old or so, starting with .22 LR's and staying there for a long time.  It wasn't until 1981 when I was 19 years old that I bought my first real gun- a Remington M788 in .22-250 which I used to hunt coyotes and shoot prairie dogs for several years.  That gun was a "tack driver", especially after I started reloading and developed some good loads for it.  In '89, I stupidly scraped the finish off and applied an oil finish and the rifle never held a good true after that.  Now, of course, I could've fixed the problem, but back then I didn't know anything, so I sold the rifle, thinking (stupidly, again) that pretty much all rifles would shot as good.  Well, long story short, they don't!

Not too long after that, I started deer hunting.  I never had anyone show me how to deer hunt but by now I was in college and decided "well, what's stopping me?" so I bought a license and went.  I didn't even have a deer rifle but our ranch foreman (at the time), Henry, loaned me his .30-06.  I checked the sighting and went hunting!  Henry rode his horse around in a big circle on a mesa where he knew there here deer while I waited and watched from a high spot.  Before long, I saw a herd of mule deer does coming my way but I'd just read a magazine article that said "the buck won't run with the does" so I ignored them and looked elsewhere.  And sure 'nuff!!!  While the does cut over the top of the mesa, coming around the rim was a buck.  I had a great spot on the opposite rim and when the buck stopped I put the crosshairs on his shoulder and dropped him literally in his tracks.  My first deer was down.  It took me, Georgia, and Henry to drag that buck out the canyon.  He was BIG.  In fact, later, I learned that he was likely a hybrid mule/whitetail deer as his antlers showed definite whitetail characteristics and his metatarsal glands were larger than a mule but shorter than a whitetail.  The area has both muley and whitetail, and a hybrid is a definite possibility.

First deer! (1985)
Packing the deer out

After this one, I continued to hunt with mixed success.  My main problem was that I looked for animals where I wanted them to be, not where they are. I was picking scenic vistas and locations that might be good for me, but you gotta find game where it is, not where you want it be. After a number of years of doing this, I started to figure it out, got successful, and over the years, I've taken several pronghorns and mule deer.

I picked up my #1 rifle in '89.  While working on my Master's degree, I decided that it was time that I buy a big game rifle.  I read and researched and decided I liked the .280 caliber.  Then I decided that the Browning A-bolt looked good.  Then I found out that Browning made the A-bolt with a synthetic stock, something that was a rarity back then.  That was my target. Now to _find_ one; remember, the Internet didn't exist for us common folks back then.

One day I was in a gun shop in Clovis NM buying maps for a research project.  On the wall was a Browning A-bolt with a wooden stock- the first actual Browning A-bolt I'd seen apart from magazine ads.  "What caliber is that", I asked.  "What caliber do you want?", he asked back.  ".280", I replied.  And from behind the counter he produced.... a Browning A-bolt in .280 with a synthetic stock!  Oh, man!!!  But, I had to check with Georgia first, so I drove back to Portales from Clovis, hunted her down on campus, and told her about it.  She said "Why didn't you just buy it?!"  I knew I'd made a good decision in marrying her!  So, we drove back, and I wrote a check for my 1st big-game rifle.

I'm still using that Browning today and, in spite of all my other rifles being Savages, it's not going anywhere or getting replaced with anything.  Around 1999 or so, I finally bought a Leupold 3x9 Vari-X II scope for it to replace the lesser Redfield it wore up to that point and that completed the package.  It's a great rifle- light, laser accurate, and forgiving of various handloads.

Pronghorn doe 2013, Browning A-bolt

In addition to deer and pronghorn, the other thing I've hunted over the years are coyotes.  Back in the day, a good coyote hide was worth $50-80 and in the 80's that was nice money for a poor college student.  I didn't hunt coyotes at all in Idaho (although I did bag one mule deer).  When we moved to the ranch in '94, I hunted coyotes kind of sporadically, but in '02 or so, I met a neighbor who was skinning them and selling the furs and who needed the money, and that gave me motivation to hunt them (I gave him the furs).  I hunted coyotes hard for about 4 years.  During the winter, whenever the wind wasn't blowing 100 mph, I was hunting.  First, this provided a lot of exercise as I like to walk between stands.  Second, it gave me a lot of time in the field and I started trying new techniques, some of which were surprisingly productive.  Third, I became a much better field shot.  After awhile, prices on hides went down and my neighbor didn't want them anymore so I stopped hunting coyotes.  In those four years, though, I learned a lot about hunting and coyotes both; it was very productive time afield.

David and Derek and I with my first "double"
I'm a lousy bowhunter in spite of having done it since about '86 or so.  I don't have the patience to sit for long periods and my hearing is bad enough that I can't hear sticks breaking, leaves rustling, animals calling, or a lot of the things that help bowhunters be successful.  In spite of bowhunting deer for maybe 5 seasons and elk for 3, I hadn't killed a thing with my bow.  That changed in 2013 when Derek and I were invited to go turkey hunting on a neighbor's ranch.  Thing is, we had to take a specific gobbler and not just any ol' turkey.  We headed over and quickly found the turkeys heading to eat at the horse trough.  They were paralleling a creek bed so Derek and I bailed into the bed and ran down it, using it for cover.  I found a good spot against a bush just as the first hens started filing by.  The target gobbler was in the rear and when he paused for a second at 30 yards, I let fly.  Bam!!!!  Turkey down!!!  What a to get a deer.....

1st bow kill, 1st turkey.
I've tried to pass "hunting" on to my kids.  The first to score was my daughter, Brianna.  She quickly proved to be a safe and accurate shot with a Savage Youth in .243 and it wasn't long before we went deer hunting on the ranch.  I spotted some bucks in a creek, we stalked down the creek, and got to about 125 yards from them as they bedded in a bunch of trees.  Brianna took the shot and her first deer was down!

Brianna's 1st deer
The next year we went back to the same creek, did some scouting and found a very nice buck.  The next morning we stalked to 200 yards, moving along the rim while the deer came toward us from the opposite side.  The deer were feeding below us and I told Brianna to take the shot when she was ready.  I don't have much faith in the .243, having had some bad experiences with that caliber, so I was watching the buck thru binoculars in preparation for tracking.  Brianna shot, the buck's hindquarters sagged, the front sagged, and it dropped as literally in its tracks as you could ever hope for.

B2's second buck

As you probably know, we lost my oldest son, David, at 11, but he had the opportunity to learn to shoot both a bow and rifle and proved to be a good, safe shot with both.  He struggled with a bolt-action rifle, but just before Thanksgiving 2011 I bought him a semi-automatic Ruger 10/22  and he was able to shoot that and take his first prairie dog the day we bought the rifle.  He was so proud of that.  Mom and Derek were gone that week down south and I'd had David's blood tested early in the week. It was low, but we needed to try to get thru Thanksgiving before heading to ABQ for a transfusion.  When they got back, Georgia took one look at David, loaded him up and headed to ABQ (I'd given her a heads-up that this would be likely).  They ended up staying there for 10 days.  You can find those blogs Here and Here, in case you want to read what I wrote as it was happening.  I was glad that David and I had gotten into the field.

David's first prairie dog
After David passed, Derek inherited that .22 and it wasn't long before he got his first prairie dog.  Derek needed a little more work on safety than David did, but he quickly was shooting responsibly.  After about a year of .22 LR work, I let him start shooting our Savage Youth model in .223 and that winter, he bagged his first hunted coyote.  I called it in, but the shot was all Derek's and he dropped it at 150 yards.  We skinned that one, tanned it, and it's hanging on the wall in the barn.

Derek's first coyote
This year (2014), Derek started making noises about deer hunting and such.  He needed a rifle for this, so I started looking and back in March, when we went to the archery shoot in Las Cruces, I picked up a new Savage Youth in 7mm-08 that'd I'd ordered from a shop there.  When we finally got a chance to sight it in, it proved to be an incredibly accurate rifle.  Derek was putting 2 shots inside 1" at 150 yards, which is some very good shooting.  He was understandably eager to go hunting and that chance finally came this past week when we went pronghorn hunting here on the ranch.

I get 2 permits for a doe/immature buck and one went to Derek this year.  He took his first pronghorn and first big-game animal at a cool 230 yards while it casually munched away on pasturage.  After the shot, the little buck went about 40 yards and cartwheeled.  We had it butchered and bagged inside an hour and feasted that evening on chicken-fried backstrap, courtesy of Brianna the Cook.

Derek and 1st pronghorn
And this just in- I had offered my 2nd doe permit to my friend, Michael Melloy, but he decided to pass and let Brianna have it.  She took quick advantage of it and here we have both her first pronghorn and her first, yes, husband.  Congratulations to my favorite daughter on both.

Brianna and 1st pronghorn
Deer hunting is coming up next, in November or December.  And me, I'm going rifle bull elk in early October and archery deer in January.  I'll probably get skunked at both, but I will have fun, I know.

Well, now that we've gone thru our family history of hunting, here's what we did this week- cleaned up the barn in preparation for incoming pronghorn hunters.  We have 8 private land hunters every year and they stay in our barn which is complete with bathroom/shower, walk-in cooler, and etc.  It's kind of a chore cleaning up the barn every year, but on the other hand, the barn gets cleaned every year!  A few years ago, David and Derek and I built a loft over 1/2 the barn to store beds and such and that makes our job easier.

Beds are stored in this loft

Derek's lowering stuff to Georgia

Beds in place

More beds
One hunting barn ready.  Just add hunters!