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Ann Kercheville

Ann Kercheville

Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at http://www.joshuacreek.com.

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Ken Hartshorn

Ken Hartshorn

Ken is a technical writer and has spent the majority of his career documenting storage hardware and software products for start-up companies. Although start-ups demand long hours, he always finds time to get to the club and break some clays. Ken is not a shooting instructor and he is not a professional shooter. He’s part of the majority of people who love to shoot clays just for the sheer fun of it.

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Lars Jacob

Lars Jacob

Unless Lars Jacob is running dogs, wetting a fly line or turkey hunting, everything he does revolves around shotgunning. Jacob has been teaching the finer art of wingshooting for over 30 years. He has run programs and gun rooms for the Dutch River Club, Covey & Nye and Orvis Company to name a few. Jacob is the founder and CEO of Lars Jacob Wingshooting, LLC and LJW Roving Syndicate. In addition to instruction, Jacob is recognized as one of the country’s finest gun fitters and recently worked with Perazzi’s Al Kondak to develop the Perazzi Ladies Sporter. He has a soft spot for side-by-sides and has introduced thousands of shooters to the nuances associated with shooting such shotguns. For more information visit www.larsjacobwingshooting.com.

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When it comes to duck hunting, I’m the functional equivalent of a 7-year-old. This is my seventh season of hunting, and every time I go out, regardless any indications that would temper the optimism of a wiser hunter, each hunt always holds the promise of Christmas. There’s always an excellent chance that the ducks will swarm around the blind like mosquitoes, my shooting will be immaculate, and the day will be one I remember forever.

When we first opened Joshua Creek Ranch for hunting and sporting clays, I was very cautious about the terms used to describe our business, using words like “game preserve” and “harvesting game” to soften the impact on anyone who might be offended by wingshooting or deer hunting.  When asked what kind of work I did, I preferred to lead with the fact that at JCR we shoot clay targets rather than jumping right in with the truth that the primary targets around here are birds and deer.  The last thing I wanted was to be confronted by anti-gun or anti-hunting activists.  Even when I was confronted, I’d listen politely, reply with something like “to each his own,” and escape the scene as quickly as I could.  I always avoided situations that might erupt in confrontation if I started delivering volumes of facts and figures about the valuable effects of hunters on wildlife populations and their habitat, or about the positive impact on crime rates when citizens own guns.  I was too kind, not wanting to offend anyone; after all, they had a right to their own opinion.  I was one of many naïve people who thought that the freedoms we enjoy in America weren’t endangered and couldn’t possibly be lost, at least not in my lifetime.

Duck season approacheth in my neck of the woods, and that means it’s time to remember the three immutable rules of the duck gods:

1. Don’t be a snob. I think my friend and hunting guide Jason Adversalo expressed this principle the most clearly: “Someone’s got to kill a spoonie. Until someone kills a spoonie, we’re not going to have a good hunt.”

What a wonderful summer it has been at the Ranch, the first half with mild temps and frequent rains, and the last half, a real sizzler…..hot and dry. But throughout it all, sporting clays enthusiasts have spent a lot of time and ammo having a heck of a lot of fun here, especially the last half of August when shooters were practicing for the Dove Season opening September 1st.

Last weekend found me at my high school reunion in Visalia, California, seated amongst a bunch of my Class of ’83 brethren who were generally quite happy to find that I’d joined the ranks of gun-totin’, wildlife-killin’ mamas. I was not a fan of guns back in the day, and my family preferred slaughtering animals we’d raised ourselves.

We were lamenting the fact that our reunion hadn’t been one week later, when I could have enjoyed a dove hunt or two while I was there. I’ve never gone dove hunting there, deep in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley, but I vividly remember quiet country mornings punctuated by the gentle call of the mourning dove. I used to call back at them with my Tonette, a little red plastic flute that’s like a recorder, only much easier to play. As an adult who hunts now, that memory translates into, “Mmmmmmm, bet there’s some good huntin’ there…”

“You should come back down!” my friend John said.

“I wish. I have so much work to do,” I said. I already knew this reunion would set me back so enough that I’d be hyperventilating within days. (I was right, but who cares – it was fun.)

“I know this great spot…” he said.

“Oh yeah?” I’ve never been one to fight Temptation very hard. I kinda dig Temptation.

“Yeah, two years ago I got my limit of 10 with 12 shots.”

I should mention that John is a competition shooter.

“And how’d that spot do last year?”

He shook his head. As I expected.

Two years ago we had an epic dove season in California. Can’t say I ever got a limit in 12 shots, but I got quite a few limits, and there were several days where we literally couldn’t reload fast enough for the next birds coming through. It was exciting and delicious. We ate so much dove that year. And we ate ‘em a dozen different ways, all awesome.

And then there was last year. Holy crap, it took me six hunts to get a single limit, and my shooting wasn’t the problem. The doves, which had been around all summer in substantial numbers, were just gone.

Compounding the shortage of doves was the weird weather. The rain had kept coming hard that spring, even into early summer, and the harvest of most seed crops – including the delicious and holy dove attractant safflower – had been delayed. The previous year, the safflower field I’d hunted had been plowed, providing attractive open territory for the nervous little birds. This time around, though, it had been cut, but not plowed, making those fields a scarier place for the doves.

The hunting was so bad that I resorted to something really goofy: If I spotted a few doves flitting into the middle of that big old field, I would get up and walk very quietly through the 6-inch-high safflower stalks to where I thought they’d be. I could often get within 20 yards, at which point their heads would pop up and they’d get that “Oh shit!” look on their faces, and they’d flush.

Most of the time I shot well enough to drop at least one, and somehow I managed to find all that I dropped, despite how well they blended in with the soil, and the fact that I wouldn’t regain sight of them until they were right in front of me. Pretty sure I got about half of my birds that way last year.

So now, people like John and me are asking ourselves: What’s it gonna be this year?

And I have a prediction: The doves are going to be really dumb.

I know that sounds insensitive, and shame on me, because I actually do have a tremendous amount of respect for wild animals, and like most of them better than I like most people. However, there is a basis for my statement.

For the past three summers, I have trapped and banded mourning doves in my front yard in cooperation with (and under the license of) the California Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Geological Service. For the past three summers I have seen distinctly different behaviors.

My first summer, the banding was epic. I trapped one bird three times (obviously he was very traumatized by the experience), and one day I trapped three birds 15 minutes apart – they just couldn’t wait until I left the front yard so they could come down off the roof and dive into that trap. That year, the dove season was epic.

Last summer, the banding wasn’t as good, though get this: I trapped the bird that I’d trapped three times the summer before, and three days after I trapped him, he was trapped by another bander 500 miles away in Palm Springs. That’s how doves roll.
                                                    
But I digress. During the last week of banding season (which ends 10 days before dove hunting season starts) my trapping was really anemic. It seemed like the doves had all just left. And lo and behold, we had a crappy season.

This summer was again very different. The first thing I noticed was that the doves would be here in droves one day, then utterly absent for a week.

And while I didn’t re-trap any birds this year, I generally found the doves in my neighborhood to be entirely too trusting. I would pass within five feet of them on morning runs and they wouldn’t flush. And in my own front yard, I could pull into the driveway, unload groceries and walk into my house and the doves wouldn’t move.

That’s dumb. Seriously, I can’t believe they weren’t all eaten by the neighborhood cats.

So what does this mean for this dove season?

I have no clue. But I’ll start finding out today.

Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, photographer and college journalism lecturer who lives in Sacramento, California. You can see more of her work at hollyheyser.com.

Living on the ranch where I work affords me the good fortune of an incredibly short and beautiful commute from my home to my office. The only things I miss from my former 30- minute morning and evening commutes are the news and talk radio. In my brief five-minute morning drive not long ago, I turned on the radio to hear Glenn Beck talking about a camp where kids are out seeing nature in action. He talked about how nature teaches patterns in life for everything, even families. One thing he said that really got my attention were these words: “plug in means tune out.” Glenn was referring to the modern trend of youngsters being entertained by electronic devices rather than engaged in outdoor activities.

We see evidence of this when 100+ youth ages 8-15 attend the Youth Outdoor Adventure Program (YOAP) over the summer months at Joshua Creek Ranch. The first-timers do suffer withdrawal when they realize they’re allowed no television, internet, cell phones, electronic games, etc. Their 10 days at YOAP are all about the outdoor sporting life. You could call it iOutdoors. But there’s no iPhone app for it. The application is 100-percent, real natural outdoor settings with their hands on real shotguns, rifles, bows, arrows, fishing rods, kayaks and oars. Yes, the application requires nimble fingers and quick reflexes, but not for pushing buttons.

Anyway, I agree with Glenn Beck about nature being a great teacher. You can’t be out in it without noticing the wondrous intricacies of how miraculously it works. I’ll share some examples that we loved seeing these kids observe:

One of the favorite recreational areas at the ranch is spring-fed Joshua Creek. The kids love swimming and fishing there, but last summer the drought was so severe that we had no flowing water in the creek. This year when kids returned they were awed to see the effect of rain on the creek. And when we had a night of thunderstorms while those kids were at the ranch, they were filled with anticipation about the impact the rain would have on the water flowing in the creek. The next day they were happy to see the significant rise in the water level, but not so pleased to see the temporary muddy condition created by the runoff that were both a consequence of bountiful rainfall.

At the beginning of each and every session of the youth program, we have a traditional initial activity. Counselors vie for the opportunity to paint a face on a sacrificial watermelon. The kids are gathered round while the caricaturized melon is set on a rock wall about 20 yards away. With all eyes fixed on the happy green face, a counselor mounts a shotgun, takes aim and shoots the unsuspecting melon-head. The explosion of red mush splatters in every direction. The effect astounds the kids and the lesson is taught. They’re about to engage in 10 days of a fun sport that can have deadly consequences if not conducted in a safe manner.  

kercheville-08-2012A couple of boys at the Joshua Creek Youth Outdoor Adventure Program learn shotgunning.

We watched another of the laws of natural consequences unfold during one of the youth program sessions. Every year a pair of barn swallows return to our office porch and attaches their nest to one of the ceiling joists near our front door. For some reason, these adorable little birds just love to nest right over doorways where, of course, they leave an incredible mess. But they are so much fun to watch that the mess is tolerable for their short migratory duration. Last year, this pair had four hatches out of their summer nest under the porch. But this summer, the second hatch ended badly. It happened during one of the youth sessions that it was time for the fledglings to learn to fly and leave the nest. The parent birds circled the nest incessantly to demonstrate how to fly, sometimes stopping to perch on the edge to deliver a chirp of encouragement. One by one the little birds stepped onto the edge and took their first brave leap into winged flight. But among them was one fledgling that would not get off the edge. The parents kept circling and swooping. They even lit on the ground below the nest as if to demonstrate that it would be safe to land there if his first attempt to fly was not successful. But he never would take the leap. After a long while, the parent birds gave up, departed, and did not return. The baby bird just continued to sit on the edge of the nest. Then later when we looked, he had gotten back into the nest. The parents never returned, the baby bird never got back on the edge and so he never took the leap to fly. He died in the nest. We talked about how these parents had done everything they could for their fledgling. They’d fed him and made him strong enough to fly, they’d demonstrated flight, they’d continuously encouraged him, they’d even shown him that he could safely land just below the nest if necessary. But they couldn’t make him take the leap, so they finally gave up and so did he. It was a tough life lesson to watch, but an incredibly valuable example of the law of natural consequences.  

To intersperse the action of shooting, archery, and river sports with the intrigue of little things like catching just the right bug that will lure the big fish of the day is to take those steps that ultimately create a life-long bond with that great teacher, nature. Interestingly, when the 10-day sessions of the Youth Program end, there’s no mad dash for iPhones when the kids get picked up. In fact, there are generally clamorous petitions for staying longer or coming again next year. Nature and real outdoor experiences have an appeal that often outshines those fascinating electronic devices

 

Upland vest on, fistful of shells in pocket, shotgun in hand, good. Now close the car door quietly and walk over the levee in the burgeoning pre-dawn light.

I was a little more nervous than usual on this rabbit hunt in July because I was not alone – a woman from Berkeley was filming my hunt for possible inclusion in a documentary.

It doesn’t happen too often that I’m left behind on a hunting trip that I think I’d really enjoy. But it happened this past week when my husband, Joe, went to Argentina with three friends for duck, dove, and pigeon shooting. Being left behind in Buenos Aires during their hunt would have been an intriguing adventure, but even that invitation was not extended. All of which led me to ask, “What’s a Shotgun Wife to do when she’s not invited to join her shotgunning spouse on a hunting trip to a desirable destination?”

Looking at it in hindsight now that the week is almost done, it’s not a hard question to answer when you’ve got a wingshooting and deer hunting destination of your own to manage.

The fact is that summer is the time for me to get all my special projects done while we’re not tending to hunting clients every day of the week. That includes some habitat management, some structural maintenance, some personnel policy updates, etc., etc. But my favorite projects by far are those that involve the upgrades to our facilities and lodging; these projects always satiate my passion for creating the overall aesthetic appeal of Joshua Creek Ranch to our year-round guests.

Joe likes to tell our clients, friends and relatives who inquire about his retirement plans that he can’t possibly consider retirement as an option because his wife is too busy spending his money on her projects at Joshua Creek Ranch. I can’t deny the accusation. I sincerely love making the ranch a hunter’s paradise, from success in the field to enjoyment in the dining room to comfort in the accommodations. I have to admit, too, that it can get a little dangerous to Joe’s financial well-being if I’m left alone for long to dream up endless ways to improve the Ranch for the enhancement of our clients’ satisfaction.

For example, this week while Joe was off hunting without me, I worked out the details for converting a bunk room at the Lodge to a luxurious suite for guests during the hunting season. The idea became overwhelmingly exciting to the point that the drapery and upholstery fabrics are now purchased, the furniture arrangement is determined, and the safari theme includes hides and memorabilia collected during some of our own hunting trips.

A little later during this week of Joe’s absence, the minor maintenance issue of a light fixture shorting out over a bathroom lavatory led to a not-so-insignificant renewal plan for the entire bathroom. Trust me: you’re going to like this improvement next time you’re at the Ranch.

Okay, I’ll confess that the entire week wasn’t devoted to furthering Joshua Creek Ranch client enjoyment. I did also meet with our taxidermist about mounting the bobcat I shot one early morning a couple of years ago while hunting a particular Axis buck. It took my son’s enthusiastic response to the unexpected turn of events that resulted in shooting a bobcat rather than an Axis deer to convince me I had a trophy to be proud of. It’s taken me this long to decide where to display him in our home filled with Joe’s trophies and how to mount him to best reveal his beautiful coat. But those decisions are now made. All that remains is for me to spend some time scouting around the ranch for the perfect weathered limb for him to be standing on.

Then, of course, my week of abandonment would not have been complete without the “girls’ night” when a dear friend, her sister-in-law from California, and my sister joined me for an evening at the Ranch. We celebrated my friend’s birthday with champagne and pizza. How’s that for misbehaving while my hunting hero was afar working hard to save the Argentine crops from devastation by ducks, dove and pigeon.

There is one task I’m ready for Joe to resume as soon as he sets foot on the Ranch. As much as I adore these precious 8 and 10 week-old English Cocker puppies, they define the phrase “what a mess!” But they have learned the meaning of the command “outside,” meaning you can’t come in my house.

I don’t know if I’ve done enough damage to avoid being left behind on his next sensational trip. Time will tell.

 

Ann Kercheville is President of Joshua Creek Ranch. Located in the renowned Texas Hill Country just 45 minutes northwest of San Antonio and 90 minutes southwest of Austin, Joshua Creek Ranch occupies a uniquely diverse terrain including miles of Joshua Creek and Guadalupe River bottomland planted in fields of grain crops for prime upland and deer hunting habitats. You can visit their web site at  http://www.joshuacreek.com.

I don’t know how it happens. I teach, so I have summers off, but somehow my days of sun-filled freedom succumb to some of the most mundane tasks.

The other day I was staring at my endless to-do list when I was overcome by common sense: Why the hell had I not gone to the shooting range in more than a month?

Let’s see, eff laundry, eff dishes, eff sweeping, eff vacuuming. Double-eff the stupid weeds in the front yard.

I had to seize the moment before drudgery yanked it back. I opened the safe, pulled out my shotgun, grabbed the last three boxes of target shells sitting in my cedar hope chest, checked my shooting-range bag for ear and eye protection and headed for the door.

But only after I wrote “shoot skeet” on my list so I’d have something to cross off when I was done. Hey, I’m an anal retentive obsessive-compulsive Dutch Virgo. Leave me alone.

Fortunately, despite my long absence, the guy at the counter of the shooting range recognized me and smiled when I walked in the door.

“Is the voice-activated thingie available?” I asked. If it weren’t for that awesome little system, I’d probably never get out to the range because I’d always be waiting for a partner who could be as spontaneous as I could.

“For skeet, right?” he responded. “It’s on No. 4.”

“Sweet.”

I walked out, unsheathed my gun, grabbed the voice controller and headed to Station One, which was – mercifully – in shade. I popped one in the chamber.

“Pull!” I yelled into the microphone.

Nothing flew.

“Pull!”

Nothing flew.

I unloaded, and as I walked to the coin box to see if it was stuck on trap mode, I felt in my pocket and realized I’d never dropped a token in the slot. Talk about out of practice!

Laughing at myself, popped my three coins in, went back to Station One, loaded the gun and yelled, “Pull!”

This time I heard the clay being launched right over my head. Gun to cheek, find it, find it, find it, ba...?

Good Lord. I’d safetied.

Oh well, it’s never a bad thing to be thwarted on the range by overzealous safety measures, right?

Now let’s try this again. “Pull!”

On it! Oh shi…

I’d safetied AGAIN. That’s not overzealous caution. That’s just dumb.

I looked around furtively to see if anyone had noticed. No one was close enough to see, but I’d already convinced myself I was an utter moron, and I’m the person whose opinion matters most when it comes to my shooting.

So of course, once I got the clays flying and my safety off at the same time, I proceeded to shoot like crap. My routine is high, low, double on every station through Station Seven, and I was hitting less than half of the clays – unusually bad. This didn’t bode well for dove season.

Then when I got to Station Four, I nailed all of them – high, low and double. I grinned. Nothing like making the tough shots when you’re missing the no-brainers.

On Station Five, I did it again.

“Yes!” I yelled defiantly to the shooting gods.

Then I quickly admonished myself: “Don’t be a cocky bitch!”

That was good for a giggle. Taken literally, those two words just don’t go together.

Walking to Station Six, I realized my arms were getting tired. My shotgun has a solid-core adjustable-comb stock, which makes it pretty heavy, and the voice system isn’t that light either. But seriously, my arms were tiring out before I’d made the complete circuit? Lame. But come to think of it, I hadn’t crossed “work out” off my to-do list for quite a while.

At stations Six and Seven, I did OK – not great. Then it was time for Station Eight.

I’m a little obsessed with shooting well at Station Eight, because when I nail those shots with an audience of strangers watching, it just plain feels good. “Yeah, guys, I can shoot.”

High house first: Miss!

Low house next: Miss!

I looked around … good, there still wasn’t anyone watching, besides my own worst enemy.

I was going to head back to Station One when I remembered what had happened on an outing this spring. I’d taken a total shotgun newbie to the range, and when we got to Station Eight, she asked why I didn’t do doubles there.

“Uh, because that would be ridiculous?” I ventured. Then I said, “What the hell,” and had her pull doubles. I missed both.

This time, I found myself saying “What the hell” again.

I hit the doubles button and yelled, “Pull!”

To my astonishment, I pulverized both clays, and I laughed maniacally as the shards crashed down around me. That felt really good. Why the hell wasn’t anyone watching now?

After that, I did better. My shooting wasn’t perfect, but it was reasonably good. Good enough that next time I came to Station Eight, I pulled doubles again.

And NAILED ‘em.

Again, no audience. Except for the person whose opinion matters the most. Things were looking up.

An American boy’s rite of passage is often marked by the watershed gift of a shotgun once owned by his father or grandfather. In the case of 16-year-old Paulena Prager, though, that defining moment arrived for the young woman when she received a shotgun owned by her mother.