The hunting season is long behind us and the start of another glorious fall is months away. So, what do hunters do in between seasons? Some of us fish, some of us grow a big vegetable garden, and those of us that live by the sea start lobstering and clamming. I try to enjoy all of it here on the Massachusetts coast. But to be honest, I spend many evenings re-reading all the great hunting stories in my favorite books and magazines.
I will tell you something else that I do, as long as you promise to keep it a secret. On the bay where I live, there is a little patch of beach plum and beach rose – and it holds a few rabbits! The beach society frowns on hunters and all the stuff we love (“guns,” baying hounds, staunch pointers locked up on poor little birds, etc.). But, when it’s raining, blowing hard, or too cold for beach goers, the miles of beach by my home becomes a deserted ghost town. That’s when I take Pup-Pup, my tri-colored beagle, for a little walk…!
Miss Daisy-Mae howls her head off as soon as she smells the salt air. She stands with her front paws on the dash and her rear paws on the good seats, smudging the clean windows with her nose. She knows where we are going even before we leave the house. One mention of the word “bunny” and she is doing the beagle dance and running for her leash, knowing the beach bunnies are waiting...!
I use to open the kitchen door and let her out when we left the house and she would run straight for the truck. But these days, we have so many bunnies around our little farm that she forgets all about the beach rabbits and takes the nearest scent trail she can find – usually in my vegetable garden. So, now, I leash her and we walk to the truck together. It more closely resembles a man being dragged by a dog, but we will ignore that fact in the spirit of the hunt.
All the beach bunnies hear us coming, long before we arrive:
“Bugsy…Here comes that stupid beagle again! Same plan as last time…?”
“Yeah, let’s keep crisscrossing, circling, and running through the thick stuff. Run down the dunes like you do and I’ll hang back. When you get bored, give me the signal and I’ll do that sprint right across her nose that drives her mad. Then, let’s work her back this way through as much poison ivy as possible, and hole up…”
I no longer open the driver’s side door to let the beagle out when we get there. Pup-Pup is so excited she just leaps out the window and hits the ground running. I just sort of lean back and try to get out of her way. It usually takes all of ten seconds before she opens up on a bunny and the chase is on.
I’ll sit in the truck with my coffee and some good country music playing, or turn on Rush Limbaugh, while the beagle works herself into a frenzy. When she gets tired, she comes by for a quick drink on the fly and keeps right on going. But after a while, I’ll wade into the poison ivy up to my neck and catch her. Like all beagles, she will hunt until she drops and you have to know when it’s time to leash her up and call it a day.
We bounce back down the dirt road that leads to home, both of us are covered head to toe in poison ivy dust. The beagle whines and howls and watches out the rear window as our secret rabbit patch disappears into the distance. She can’t believe we are leaving. But then she settles down on the salt and sand-covered leather seats, and takes a short nap.
We pull into the driveway and I open the truck door to let her out. She stands and stretches and does a big yawn. She sniffs the breeze, like the hunter she is, enjoying the fresh air. I don’t rush her. I know she is taking in a good whiff of the vegetable garden bunny before heading into the house. We both walk up to the steps, ignoring the outdoor kennel, and head for the kitchen. She waits patiently for her treat, then gets a gentle pat on the head before retiring to the living room.
As I tidy up the house, I glance over at her all stretched out on the good furniture littered with her toys. I know she is pretending to be asleep while keeping an eye on me. We’re both dreaming of bunnies and autumn and the smell of rabbit stew simmering on the stove, and a nice fire in the fireplace. I give her another little pat as I walk past and she thumps her tail without opening her eyes. It may be summertime, but we never stop thinking about fall.
The other day I was thinking about what has driven me to hunt. I see so many companies and services within our ranks that use words like “obsession” and “addiction.” Both these, and other terms like them, are certainly intense, but they are also harsh in some respects and I wondered at the thought that maybe they were overused, misused, much like “terrorism” has become an all-encompassing term for anything remotely horrific ever since 9-11. Use a word too much, apply it too liberally to too many things that are similar but lacking extremeness, and you run the risk of the word losing its impact. And so I wondered if we are danger of that with our hunting “obsessions” and “addictions.”
In anticipation of the upcoming turkey season, I’m sure most of you have noticed that outdoor print media and television airwaves are filled with scene after scene of toms getting annihilated by 12-gauge and 10-gauge shotguns spewing magnum loads, and the advertisements in between the pages and during the commercial breaks are filled with supercallifragilistic, triple-Xtra, super-duper magnum this, that, and the other. Sheesh, you’d think a turkey had the armor plating of a rhinoceros, rather than a coat of feathers.
Part of the problem has been that the bigger-is-always-better approach has long defined the mindset of more than a few Americans. We’ve seen that philosophy exacerbated in more than a few areas. Take, for instance, the ever-increasing size of our SUVs and trucks. Remember when a Toyota Tundra was the size the
I hate to say it, but the gun industry has followed suit. Think of all the Super Short Magnums that have come on the market in the last decade or so. There was a resurgence of the 10-gauge in recent years, too. Even the archery side of things has its extremes. When I was working at the NRA, we never talked about someone in print claiming to make a clean kill shot on game at more than 40 yards. Yet today, there’s more than a few hardcore archers who know their equipment and have solid skills and will tell you they regularly kill at up to 80 yards (I don’t know, maybe the braggings gotten bigger, too). Still, one of the segments that pushes excess the hardest are the purveyors of guns and ammunition designed particularly for killing turkeys.
I get it, it’s marketing. Kill it further out! Kill it faster! Kill it deader than dead! Now, I’m all for a fast kill, and I have seen where advancing ammunition technology really does result in a faster kill. I remember when some of Federal’s first tungsten shotshells came out, for instance. I took those loads goose hunting, and without question saw a better quality, faster kill than I did with steel shot (airborne geese hit with those loads responded like a bug hitting your car windshield as you cruise down the highway—they never knew what hit them). But I haven’t seen the same results with turkeys. The push for 3 ½-inch 12- and 10-gauge shells that can reach out and tag a tom at 50 or 60 yards is fine in and of itself, but in my opinion it’s unnecessary. I’ll tell you why.
Ask yourself this: are turkeys harder to kill now than they were 20 years ago? No. Do you need to kill a turkey at 60 yards? No. Do you need the recoil of a long-shelled 12- or a 10-gauge bruising your shoulder and cheek? Still nope.
Let me break those questions down for you a little better. The first one is simple enough.
How about the need to kill a turkey at 50 or 60 yards? “Need” being a relative term, I’d say that, if you find yourself shooting toms as distances much farther out than you ever used to, you need to practice your calling and decoying skills. Yes, turkeys hang up. No, sometimes they can’t be worked closer. Live hens compete with your fakery for a tom’s attention and love and often wins. Crows distract and confuse. That is the romance that is hunting – hunting – this game bird. You have six weeks and one or two tags. I’d rather spend several beautiful spring mornings watching the sun come up and call a gobbler in the right way and close enough for an instant-death, one-shot kill, than plunk a tom down way in the distance on opening day (or any day, for that matter) just because the shot string from my gun reached that far. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Finally, recoil is absolutely an issue with 12- and 10-gauge shotguns loaded with 3½-inch shells. I know some of you are thinking “Heck, it’s just one, maybe two shots.” But it’s not. You have time on the bench with different chokes and dozens of shells shucked through your gun, if you’re responsible about patterning a shotgun you intend to kill live game with – and if you intend to kill a thickly feathered 20-pound or better bird at 60 yards, you damn well better perfect your gun on paper before you head for the field.
But if you spend the time on the bench that you should, the chances are you’re going to start to flinch, especially if you conventionally and regularly shoot shotguns with less strength. I don’t care how tough you are, how much testosterone courses through you, and how big your truck is, this is physics, and hard-recoiling guns, most often those shot infrequently, do things to you mentally and physically.
Even worse than a flinch, though, is your shot-to-shot recovery. Remember you were thinking “one, maybe two” shots? If you’re going to shoot at distance, the faster a suddenly necessary secondary shot comes the better, and speed in getting the bead or scope back on target following the muzzle rise from the first shot is compromised when you increase the load.
Need one more reason? I’m going back to the how-tough-you-are argument. Plain and simple, there isn’t anything pleasurable about the recoil from these guns. If you say there is, okay for you, but I think that qualifies you as a masochist, and that’s not an attractive trait no matter how you slice it.
If you’re still not convinced, I’d tell you to go back to watching all the turkey hunting shows on TV. Notice the abundance of youth hunts filmed? Take a look at what all those kids are shooting. It’s the 20-gauge. That’s right, the no-notoriety, lil’ ol’ yellow-hulled 20-gauge. Notice anything else? These kids and their small shotguns kill turkeys just fine, especially when an adult with calling skills and hunting skills has called one in close enough. (Get it? Called. In. Close. Enough.) So if the lowly 20-gauge is good enough for your kids to kill a gobbler with, why do you need to buy into the magnum hype?
I say don’t. Personally, I often carry a 12-gauge auto, an older Browning Gold I’ve owned for some time. It’s super easy on recoil, even with a stiff turkey load, but when I go after gobblers I load it with either 2¾- or 3-inch loads, not the 3½. I don’t need the bigger shell. Maybe more often than I take out the Browning, though, I have a little Beretta White Onyx over/under in 20-gauge that’s my favored tool for turkeys. It’s more maneuverable, fast to reload, accurate as any other shotgun when patterned correctly, and easy to carry if I have to do some hiking for a tom. And it kills just fine.
Try it, try something smaller, like the 20-gauge your kids are hunting with. Resist the temptation to up the distance at which you kill. Resist the marketing hype that bigger is better just because it’s bigger and work on what really should be better, and that is your scouting, calling, and setup techniques. It’s okay to be a magnum hunter, just do it without the magnum gun.
Jennifer L.S. Pearsall is a professional outdoor writer, photographer, and editor, who has been a part of the hunting and shooting industries for nearly 20 years. She is an avid clays shooter, hunter and dog trainer. Please visit her blog “Hunting the Truth” at http://huntingthetruth.com.
It was one of Montana’s best-kept secrets nestled away in the hill country along the Madison River. The ranch opened to the public back in 2007, but it didn’t hold its grand opening until early 2008 when all the finishing touches were completed. The ranch is a 5000 acre deeded property with about an additional 2000 acres in leased land. Some of the land, only about 1,500 acres, is farmed but the majority of it is in a natural state for wildlife.
Most fantasies are better than the actual experience. Occasionally the opposite is true, a well known fact of hunters around Maryland.
Most shooters aren't aware there is another shotshell manufacturer out there aside from the big four here in the United States. It’s RST and its has been around for a number of years. Their shotshells are manufactured in Friendsville, Pennsylvania, so they are not imported.
A year ago I finally returned to some of my old haunts for hunting grouse in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was a trip long delayed because of the loss of a good friend some years ago, Ed Schierer. Ed and I met in Colorado Springs at the Broadmore Hotel in April of 1995. I was there doing a story on the resort and shooting facility and he and Michael Murphy were conducting a shooting school on the very nice shooting grounds of the Broadmore at that time. We decided to all get together for dinner the next day at a cabin they owned up in the mountains. We grilled some great steaks, drank some good beer and talked about the great bird hunting in different parts of the states.
I mentioned to Ed that what I missed the most in living in New Mexico at the time, was the great grouse hunting in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It turned out that it was Ed’s passion as well. Later that evening he told me that I’ll be his guest for two weeks come that fall for grouse hunting. He mentioned the grouse count has been going up and it should be a peak year for grouse hunting. He said that I should call him in late September or early October to find out how the trees were doing.
When I did call Ed, he mentioned it hadn’t been cold enough to have the trees drop all their leaves as yet, so he was going to Canada to hunt grouse up there. He said I should call back the last week of October or the first week of November when he’ll be back.
Summer never seemed to end, as I was so looking forward to the hunt with Ed. When the time came, I gave Ed a call and Virginia answered. She said, “haven’t you heard, Ed disappeared up in Canada.” “They have been looking for him for over a week and they haven’t found him, even the Royal Air Force was looking for him with Infra-red.” To this day they haven’t found Ed. Needless to say, I didn’t go grouse hunting back in the Midwest that year.
As the years slipped by, I kept telling myself I’ve got to go back and do some grouse hunting as it’s been a dream of mine for some years. A couple of years ago I finally got myself a dog that was a good companion and a bird dog. A Viszla named Jack, who was mister personality plus. Wherever I went with Jack, we made friends, or I should say Jack made friends.
Jack really only had two modes, play with me or pet me. He should have been a bald headed dog he was always petted so much. With Jack at my side, I felt the time was right to head back to the Midwest and do some grouse hunting in remembrance of Ed. I decided to do a trip and hunt both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In the past, I had hunted northern Minnesota, but I wanted to try something new and contacted the Rochester, MN Convention and Visitors Bureau in the southern part of the state. They sent me a wealth of information on grouse hunting in the southern part of the state along with a listing of places to stay in Rochester, restaurants, points of interest and plenty of maps to find my way along with some Department of Natural Resources information. They were very thorough. They even got me a very good rate at the Kahler Hotel that allowed dogs and hooked me up with an excellent guide by the name of Dan Butterfass
I contacted Dan and arraigned to meet him in the hotel lobby at 8:00 AM the day after I arrived. As I waited for Dan to show up, Jack was busy making friends. When Dan arrived, he advised me we’ll start with the most distant place to hunt for grouse so that he can show me some of the other places where we’ll hunt during the week. Many of the places he pointed out were some of the high bluff areas along the Zumbro River where the state was protecting the native prairie grasses. It was beautiful country and it was a pleasant drive of under an hour.
The first place we went out was just off the highway and up a gentle dirt road that meandered back into some heavy cover. Jack and the other dog got along well and were out looking for grouse that Dan and I could shoot. The first shot taken by Dan was a Woodcock that he got. The dogs flushed a couple of grouse from the sound of it, but I never got a good look at them because of the heavy cover, and Dan didn’t see them either. A little later, a grouse flushed close to me and I had a good view and dropped it on the first shot. Dan also got a grouse a few minutes after mine. About that time it was almost noon and we decided to have a snack and feed the dogs as we relaxed and enjoyed the river scenery.
Dan explained how we would make a loop through the timber and end up down by the car. It wasn’t too long before Dan had another woodcock and I ended up getting another grouse on the way back. By the time we got back to the car we each had another grouse. It was pretty good for the first day out in some grand country to explore. The dogs did their job and had a good time as well.
That evening I was pretty tired being the first day out and I decided to stay close to the hotel and have dinner. Right around the corner from the hotel was Victoria’s Ristorante and Wine Bar. As soon as I opened the door and walked in I knew I picked the right place because of the fantastic aromas floating throughout the restaurant. Whenever I go to a good Italian or German restaurant, and they have veal on the menu that’s what I order. I had veal Piccata and was not disappointed. It was a grand meal served in a grand style with large portions and flavors that make you ask for more. Their wine selection was excellent as was the ambience of the restaurant and great staff. (Victoria’s is at 7 First Ave. SW and they can be reached at 507-280-6232.) The other place you have to eat at in Rochester is Jasper’s Alsatian Bistro and Wine Bar at 14 Historic Third Street, Rochester, MN, (507-280-6446). It’s like stepping back in time and having a unique dinner with flavors from the old world that are outstanding.
The next four days with Dan picking the spots for hunting grouse were fantastic. I don’t know who had more fun the dogs or us. We had good hunting and got plenty of birds every day except for one where the state DNR tore up the ground for a fire break to protect the prairie grass. It had to have been within the last week and we didn’t understand why they did it during grouse season. We were both very upset about that. And it didn’t surprise us when we didn’t flush any birds there. The grouse hunting in the southern part of the state was great and I’d recommend it to anyone. Dan really knew a lot of good spots and we had a great time together and the weather was perfect every day. Dan is not only an excellent hunting guide, but as you roll down the highway he’ll fill you in on all the important history and information on the areas you’re passing through. Rochester is a good place to headquarter and was a good jumping off place for hunting or sightseeing as well.
First, I feed the dogs – then I get a chance to eat.
After Rochester, I headed up to the northwestern corner of Wisconsin around Yellow Lake and the town of Webster where my dad had a place. I had hunted there for many years before and after I got out of the service. There were always plenty of grouse in the woods there.
The next morning I headed out to one of my favorite spots for Grouse with Jack. The weather looked threatening, but I decided to go anyhow. We were in the woods for just about a half an hour when Jack flushed the first grouse. It took two shots because of the heavy cover, but I got it. About twenty minutes later Jack got another two birds up but I was only able to get one. The hunting was as I remembered it years ago and Jack was doing a great job. It was getting close to lunch time when the first drops of rain started to fall. We headed back to the SUV and got there before the heavens split open and it really started to pour. It was only about a twenty minute drive back to the Heartwood Conference Center where I was staying.
It may not sound like I was on a hunting trip when you’re staying at a conference center, but this place had the best location and a variety of lodging, from motel-like rooms, to lodge rooms and cabins like the oneI was staying in. It was also great because they allowed dogs and there was plenty of room for Jack to run around. It also had a complete kitchen so you could stay in and cook or go out to one of the many good restaurants in the area.
It continued to rain and drizzle for the next four days and I had run out of time. It was a shame I couldn’t get any more hunting in because of the bad weather, but that’s the way it is at times. My dream still isn’t complete so I made myself a promise I’ll go back for another week or two within the next two or three years.
For more information you can contact the following:Kahler Grand Hotel
Heartwood Conference Center & Resort
The Rochester Tour Co.
Jerry Sinkovec is a freelance outdoor and travel photojournalist who writes for over 45 different publications nationally and internationally. Jerry is also designing shooting clothing and accessories for Wild Hare Intl. He is the shooting and travel editor for Outdoors Now. He is also the director of the Instinctive Target Interception Shotgun Shooting School headquartered in Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has been teaching for the last 20 years, and has been endorsed by Browning in Utah. He conducts classes in all the western states. His address is: I. T. I. Shotgun Shooting School, 5045 Brennan Bend, Idaho Falls, ID 83401. He can be reached at: 208-523-1545, or online at http://www.itishooting.com.
Another time, I was duck hunting with a good friend on the Massachusetts coast and taking a few pictures at sunrise. It was very cold and I tucked my very expensive camera into my gunning coat. Suddenly, a banded Red Leg came over the decoys and I leaped up and dropped him into the blocks with a single shot. In my zest, my camera flew out of my gunning coat and landed in a tidal pool that was several feet deep. We figured that northern red leg duck cost about $1,800 dollars to bring down, not counting guns and ammunition.
I once shot and killed a hen mallard and drake stone dead with a single round from my 12-gauge Browning Gold. The pair landed belly up on the other side of a small river. I walked up river looking for a place to cross, and fell through an iced-over ditch up to my neck. It was January 17th and I nearly drowned. A do-gooder, watching through his telescope from his trophy home, called the police – not to report a man through the ice, but to complain about a hunter in the marsh that he could see from his property!
Ever get caught in a forty-knot blow while sea duck hunting three miles offshore – in an open skiff – with the anchor lines and decoy lines wrapped around each other and then firmly wrapped around the prop – with your stern to the wind and sea in January with sub-freezing temperatures? I have. The water was over my knees and going over the gunwales. It scared me enough to re-think my idea about "hardcore gunning" for sea ducks. I still go, but I go differently than I did.
On a more pleasant note, when I was ten years old Dad took me rabbit hunting on the Island with my new shotgun I got for Christmas. I looked over a cliff, saw some ducks, and crept back and asked if I could try for them. He said, "Go ahead." I went back and shot my very first duck, an eider drake. Mum took my picture in the kitchen when I got home and Dad had the eider mounted. Thirty-eight years later I still have the mount, Mum's photo and my first shotgun. Thanks Mom and Dad. You have no idea how much that meant to me.
Growing up on the North Hill Marsh in Duxbury, Massachusetts was an outdoor kid's dream. Fishing, hunting, trapping, camping, living off the land – this is how I spent much of my childhood.
I remember waking on a cold, frosty dawn, crawling from my tent pitched high on a hill. Ducks and geese were noisily feeding on the pond below. A smoky mist whisked over the water's surface. As I stood up and stretched, I nearly had a heart attack when two ruffed grouse exploded into the air no more than ten feet behind my camouflaged tent. I've studied and hunted grouse all my life, and I still jumped a foot off the ground when they launch themselves into the air like rockets – at 45 miles per hour! If you haven't experienced the shear exhilaration of a surprised ruffed grouse flush, you're missing out on one of the most spectacular rushes nature provides (see your doctor first).
One day, I was hunting a hillside where I had seen and flushed (and missed) a ruffed grouse on three different occasions. Grouse are the hardest game bird to hunt because they are literally as fast as lightning. One flash and they are gone. On this particular evening though, I was confident I would come home with supper.
As I side-winded around the hill, I came to a beautiful pine grove that smelled with the sweet perfume of fall. As I stood there deeply breathing in nature's bouquet, a ruffed grouse came roaring into the grove at full throttle. He spotted me just as he put on the brakes and dropped his landing gear. If ever a grouse was surprised, this bird sure was. I swear his eyes were as big as saucers as he touched down no more than five feet in front of me. (Ruffed grouse are never supposed to come towards you. In fact, they are heard and rarely seen as they pour on the afterburners and disappear through the woods like a super sonic jet at an air show – now you see me now you don't!)
He immediately started making a nervous, red-squirrel-like whistling. He strutted, contemplating, not quite sure what to do. I stood there in utter surprise myself. When I realized supper was at hand, I tried to raise my gun. Only one thing stood between me and the tender, white meat: tall and medium-sized pine trees. Actually there were three and I was standing port of arms right up against them. When I had first come upon the "cathedral in the pines," I leaned against these trees and poked my head into the grove. Sort of like when you crack open a door and stick your head into a room to look around. Now I was so close to the pines, I couldn't snap my gun to my shoulder for the shot.
Suddenly, the ruffed grouse got his wits about him and exploded into the air. I nearly had a heart attack. In the blink of an eye he was gone without a trace. I stood there, heart pounding in my chest, and laughed out loud. Somehow, this bird had skunked me again. As I walked home re-playing the scene in my mind, I wondered – if I were a fox, would he of gotten away?
Story and photos by Jerry Sinkovec
Casa de Campo has a distant sounding ring to it, but it can be as close as three hours away or less. It’s located on the south shore of the Dominican Republic outside the town of La Romana which also has an International airport. Atlanta, New York and Miami are three of the major jumping off places.
Casa de Campo features what any Caribbean destination resort has to offer and much, much more on their 7,000 acres. They have three award-winning golf courses like Teeth of the Dog, which is world renown, and it has spectacular views of the sea and surrounding terrain. The management at Casa de Campo is currently finishing a $20-million-dollar renovation to create 78 new Elite rooms and suites, along with a new, contemporary main hotel area.
Over the years I’ve heard about and seen articles on Casa de Campo and I was impressed with what they had to offer. Now, I’ve had a chance to experience the resort. They have the world’s largest sporting clays facilities with over 200 stations and the tallest tower in the world. At 110 feet, it throws targets in all four directions from three different levels. They also have three lower towers on site. In addition, they have three trap fields; one for regular and handicap; one for trap doubles; and one for wobble trap. They also have a single skeet field and two Barnaby pigeon rings.
Since I didn’t have my own gun with me because I flew into Santo Domingo (for the shorter time in the air and the nicer terminals), so I used one of their Berettas. They have a large selection of shotguns you can use and they are primarily 12-gauge Beretta field guns with a manual safety. They also have guns in the four different gauges. I decided to shoot a couple of rounds of skeet to see how their Berettas would handle. The barrels felt a little heavier than my Browning, but the gun seemed to handle about the same. I only dropped a few targets so it wasn’t bad. The distant horizon was great for seeing the targets on the skeet field as well as the trap fields.
If you want to bring your own gun it can be easily done by filling out a gun permit two weeks before you depart and fly directly into the Casa de Campo/La Romana Intl. Airport (code: LRM) where the resort has good working relations with the authorities. You may encounter problems at the other two airports at Santo Domingo and Punta Cana, which are both about 90 minutes away.
The following day I went out with Shaun Snell, the manager of the shooting complex, to shoot the sporting clays field. I let him pick out the stations and I went after the different presentations. There was a nice selection of targets with what I would call normal type presentations All of them were doable, but I still could miss one now and then. It was fun shooting incomers from one of the two grouse butts on the course. I found the presentations off the top of the tower the most difficult, never having seen targets like that. They were so fast that you couldn’t pick them up until they were about 10 to 15 yards out and had slowed a bit. Be prepared for the unexpected and a good amount of fun. The next time I go back I hope to shoot all 200 plus stations.
You could spend 14 days there shooting 14 stations each day and you would not have shot all the sporting clay stations they have to offer. There is a great diversity in the presentations, which will challenge you as hard as you’d like to be challenged. Some stations are on the soft side and are used for instruction.
In years past the shooting focused on sporting clays, trap and live bird shooting with top competitors coming from Europe and South America. Some of the live bird competitions are still held there but not with the same frequency of years past. Over the years things have changed as has the interest in the different disciplines. Seven years ago Shaun, who is from England, took over the management of the shooting complex and started to make some changes. They have a clubhouse where the pro shop and office are located along with the Safari Club restaurant and bar. It’s a great place to relax with a soothing drink after a day of shooting or hunting.
Under Shaun’s management the focus has turned to upland bird hunting and waterfowl hunting. Casa de Campo is the only place on earth where you can do bird hunting 365 days a year. There are no licenses to buy, no bird limits, just great outdoor experiences. They have over 10,000 acres devoted to hunting upland birds and waterfowl. They have developed their own kennels and have an active breeding program which is operated by Shaun’s wife. The dogs that were used during our upland bird hunt were outstanding with pointers locating the birds and other dogs to flush them out.
Our upland hunt started after lunch on an average day. It was warm but pleasant and included about a 40 minute drive to the hunting property. The dogs were excited and anxious to get to their task. The terrain was on the flat side with some low hills and gullies and grass that was a little higher than normal. There were pockets of thick brush throughout the area that provided great cover for the birds. It wasn’t long before one of the dogs was on point. Another dog was released that flushed the birds and three partridge were flushed. With two guns shooting all three partridge were taken. Over the next few hours we were able to get 51 birds that included quail, partridge and pheasant. It was an exciting time with some great hunting and dogs that really knew their stuff.
The following day we went out early in the morning to the area where the duck hunting took place in lush terrain with many ponds and streams and bigger hills. Some small blinds were set up for the three shooters. It wasn’t long before ducks came over the hill to land in the pond behind us. At first it was one, two or three birds, but later the ducks came over in larger groups. The shooting was fast and furious and by the end of the morning each shooter had about 48 birds.
The largest shoot they have at Casa de Compo is the Sugar Invitational. It is a private shoot that takes place in April. Every year there are some changes to the format as it includes a few hundred clay targets and live bird shooting in different events. The shoot is normally conducted over four days. (For more information on events at Casa de Campo you can contact Shaun at the shooting center at 809-523-3333 ext. 5145.)
The accommodations at Casa de Campo vary from large villa homes to a variety of hotel rooms including the new Elite room and suites, with all the amenities of a large resort. My hotel room was larger than most hotel rooms and comfortable and had a covered balcony on the back side with nice views. Although my room wasn’t one of the newly remolded rooms it was more than ample and came with a well-stocked mini bar and great air-conditioning.
The Ivory colored sand beaches and palm trees are just beautiful. Since I was pretty busy on this trip, I only had one afternoon to spend at Minitas Beach to soak up the solar BTU’s and sip on a few margaritas. It was glorious. This resort covers 7,000 acres and so each room is provided with a golf cart to get around in. And it is really handy.
There are many other things to do at Casa de Campo. They have over a dozen tennis courts and several of them are lighted for play in the evening. The courts looked new, but it’s just that they are so meticulous in their maintenance. The La Terraza Tennis Center has been dubbed the “Wimbledon of the Caribbean.” At the equestrian center you can ride out on a large selection of trails on either an English or western saddles, but if you want to ride make sure you bring long pants. I didn’t so I couldn’t ride. Less than 100 yards from the stable is a polo field where a match was taking place the day I was there. I had fun capturing some action shots of the game.
There are other activities at Casa de Campo as well. There is deep-sea fishing, sailing, kayaking along with snorkeling and diving as well. You can also take an excursion or one of the many tours available or just rent an ATV and explore on your own. There are also spas where you can relax or get a massage which I did and felt totally renewed. They also have a fitness center where you can work out like you normally would at home and stay in shape after eating all those grand meals every evening. You can also rent a bike if that is more to your liking for staying in shape.
The nine restaurants in the resort’s inclusive package are simply great, with one of them being in the five- diamond class. At the restaurant at the Marina my dining partner and I ordered a large Man-O-War, about 20 inches in length and eight across, with its decks awash with sushi, sashimi, wasabi, sliced ginger and other delights. I never thought we’d finish it off, but we did such a grand job of clearing the decks, any good admiral would have been proud of our efforts.
My favorite appetizer that was available at two different restaurants and prepared a little different at each restaurant was tuna tartar. I had it just about every night. The restaurant that would easily win a five-diamond award is Le Cirque, which is located by the beach. The food there was really outstanding as was their selection of wines. The ambience of the restaurant was superior to what you would normally expect. And you could look out over the beach and barely hear the surf pounding on the shore.
Whatever your taste in food is you’ll find something there to suit you. And there will soon be the new La Cana Restaurant and Lounge by Il Circo in the main area too. There are art galleries and a museum on the property along with its own large shopping area. You can also visit and explore Altos de Chavon, an area where everything has the look of a few hundred years ago that also has some shops and restaurants on the Casa de Campo property. You’ll feel at home even though you’re away from home at Casa de Campo, because of the great staff.
For more information on Casa de Campo you can contact:Casa de Campo Direct
Writer Michael McIntosh once said, "Collectors and shooters see guns from different angles..." To that I say, Amen! I happen to be both a collector and a shooter, which creates a whole new set of angles that I won't get into right now. But what I thought I would do in this month’s column is share a couple of my staunch opinions about shotguns. For space reasons, I will limit my comments to hunting shotguns. So, for better or worse, here they are... Don't feel too embarrassed if you disagree with me on one or two.
The most stupid thing ever put on a good double gun is a Selective trigger. Double triggers are a love, and a single trigger is fine by me. But a lever that lets you switch back and forth from one barrel to the other? Please... This is one novelty that I hope goes away.
The best American-made over under for the money is the Ruger Red Label. The best pointing auto-loader ever made is the Remington 1100. And as long as we are at it, the best waterfowl gun is the 3 1/2" chambered Benelli Super Black Eagle II and the Browning Gold Hunter auto loaders. The best waterfowl load? The 3-inch Heavy Shot. It is amazing...! But who wants to pay $3.00 every time you pull the trigger?
The best barrel length for a doublegun is 28 inches. You won't swing it too fast and you won't slow it down or stop the gun too soon. For a young shooter just starting out, I will give the nod to 26-inch barrels to lighten the gun – as long as they can be upgraded to 28-inch barrels as soon as they can handle them. The best gauge for a young shooter? It’s 28 gauge. Not a bad upland gun for any shooter, young or old, except maybe for pheasants. The best load for the 28 gauge is a 2¾-inch shell with ¾ ounce of #7½ shot. Trust me on this! The best chokes for this load in a 28 gauge? Skeet and skeet. It is a dandy quail gun/load combo.
The best fixed chokes for any double gun? If I had to pick two it will come as no surprise that I would choose improved cylinder and modified. If you are shooting steel shot at waterfowl over decoys the best choke is improved cylinder. Steel patterns are very tight. Last year I shot a black duck with an improved cylinder choke at 87 paces with a 3-inch Kent Fasteel cartridge loaded with #2 shot. A great cartridge if you don't mind watching the brass rust while you hold it in your hand.
Pistol grip or straight stock? This falls into the “whatever your preference is” category. You will shoot either equally well if you practice with them. In the end, it just doesn't matter, as long as you can live with it. I shoot both and switch back and forth regularly. I kind of like the lines of the straight stock, but I'm a loyal Yankee and will never let go of the fact that I come from a nation of riflemen.
Now you will hate me, especially if you love the game of skeet. I think American skeet shooting ought to be done with a low gun. No pre-mounting. Further, I think the shooter should not be able to call "pull" when he is ready for the target. This job belongs to the one pulling and he should be able to pull at will. I would really like to see a "new" skeet game start at clubs all across America that I call "walk-up skeet." The shooter moves around the field freely and the puller pulls at random. In the end, 25 birds total have been launched and the shooter never knows from what direction or exactly when. This in my mind, puts back some of the spontaneous excitement back into skeet shooting that most closely resembles flushing birds during upland hunting. Which is the whole reason skeet shooting was invented for in the first place.
Just one more. Is the worst gun law (one of many) in the State of Massachusetts? It’s the trigger lock law. I was guiding some gentlemen from Texas not too long ago and told them we have to have our guns cased and trigger locked while transporting them in our vehicles, and locked up while in our homes. And if they ever get stolen, the police and the DA prosecute the gun owner. Their jaws dropped, their eyes got big, and then they spoke in the manner that makes Texas the great state that it is: "That’s the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. What if you got to get to your gun?" Amen brothers. Don't ever give up your freedoms in Texas like we have here in Massachusetts.
Today is a rainy day and I can’t quite decide on what to do. Like you, I’ve hunted ducks and geese, fished for stripers and blues, and dug quahogs and clams all in the rain. And just once, all three in the same day!
But today is different. I’m thinking of excuses for not going. It’s cozy here by the fire. I can clean and oil the guns, wax the rods, or take an old toothbrush to some of the green gunk on my reels. Or I could start a new book, or finish an old one I’ve read a hundred times… It’s a rainy day, a great day, and anything is possible.
When I was a young boy, I had very little in the way of foul weather gear. But I did have an old, heavy, canvas gunning coat left behind by a wealthy Duxbury gunner. It was much too big for me to wear when I got it, but dad had quietly given it to me just the same, in his simple, New England Yankee way. My father was the gardener of a man’s estate, and when the owner passed on, the wife had given the gunning coat to dad because she knew he enjoyed hunting, too. The old, canvas gunning coat had long been bleached the color of butternut from years of hard use. But it was in excellent condition, comfortably broken in, rugged and tough like the men that wore them.
I use to stare at that hunting coat hanging on a nail in the cellar, and dream of the old gunner that must have owned it. He was a “well-to-do” as my father was fond of saying, and had a gunning stand way up in the marshes of the Back River of Duxbury, Massachusetts. The “blind” was an elaborate affair, complete with fieldstone fireplace, bunk rooms, a decoy room, a Great Room in the middle, with table and chairs for meals and playing cards – especially the night before opening day! There was a piano and a couple of old, leather chairs with plenty of character, sitting around the fire. A small kitchen and a wet bar gave the final touches. Apple wood smoke and steaming wet dogs filled the air with that sweet smell of autumn that all hunters love…
Outside, surrounding the camp, were the shallow “ponds,” large and small tidal pools that had been dug into the marsh to hold a bunch of hand-carved decoys – and lots of ducks. On one side of the ponds were the breastworks - long, chest-high fences of boards and brush behind which the gunners would wait for the morning and evening flights of ducks.
As the hunters waited in their heavy, bleached, canvas gunning coats, sipping coffee in the cold dawn, dogs at their sides, they spoke in quiet tones and talked of the beauty and wonder of it all. The sandpipers and great blue herons, the hawks and endless lines of starlings migrating South; the golden glow of marsh grass waving in the breeze, the clams squirting up little, spouts of water. The false-dawn of the eastern sky that looked finer than any Monet… and more than once, the ghostly glimpse of a mighty buck sneaking along the marshs edge. Then… the whistling of wings and the last seconds of silence… as the birds cupped their wings and turned into the decoys…
When the men sat around the fire that night after opening day, enjoying steamed clams, roasted black duck, perhaps a refreshment or two, they thought much and spoke little of how they felt - humbled, bittersweet, and young again… The years had passed quickly as the “old men” always said they would. The children had all grown and moved away and life was pretty simple again. One of them was thinking back to a little boy he remembered very well. A little boy staring up at an old canvas gunning coat, dreaming of the day when he would be old enough to go along, too.
Having hunted most of the species of upland birds in North America, I’ve come to appreciate the qualities of the chukar. Hunting chukar is an exciting adventure that always includes a surprise or two. Chukars are not only fun to hunt, they are also one of the most hearty birds to put down and typically don’t present a head shot on the rise as pheasant tend to do – making them challenging as well.
If you love goose hunting then western Canada is Mecca. Last fall my hunting partner Mark and I planned a trip to western Canada to the province of Alberta. Our connection up there works and lives in the fast growing region and city of Grand Prairie.
A couple of years ago I received a call from a business acquaintance at Benelli USA, the good people who build a great shotgun. The call was an invitation to be a guest on an episode of Benelli’s Dream Hunts program airing weekly on The Outdoor Life Network now called Versus. Not being one to turn down any chance to hunt I quickly accepted without knowing any of the details at the time.
One day last season, another hunter and myself put up a flock of seven-hundred black duck as we cut across the bay. That’s one continuous flock, all at once, of seven-hundred birds. Earlier, that morning, we put up another flock of two-hundred black duck. This has been the norm for many years where we gun on the Massachusetts coast.
According to the USFW, DU, and DW, the black duck is in decline. But from what I have seen in the past five years, you would never know it. The biologists tell us this is because the black ducks have shifted their range and we’re just seeing more ducks because they’re more concentrated. I remain skeptical. From my observations, I would say the black duck is thriving on the Massachusetts coast.
It bothers me to no end that our Canadian brothers can shoot four black ducks per day, but as soon as those same ducks enter the United States, we can only shoot one black duck per day. Why not get together with our Canadian brothers and level the playing field? Two black ducks per day, no matter where you gun. Of course, if you’re a Canadian, that would mean your daily bag limit of black duck would be reduced by fifty percent. Turn the tables and see how Americans would react if another country imposed such a restriction on us. What would Americans say then?
Eider duck numbers, everyone agrees, are way down. Maine to Massachusetts, we have all seen a huge reduction in birds in the past three years. Prior to 2003, we were seeing 2,000-5,000 flight birds per morning on the Massachusetts coast. Didn’t matter where you were gunning, the birds were thicker than flies. Three years later, we count ourselves lucky indeed, if we see 200-300 birds per morning!
The USFW and Tufts University are two organizations trying to figure it all out. I’m sure others are involved as well, but they need to toot their horn a little more and let us know what they are doing. I’d love to read full-length articles in magazines such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Outdoor Life, Massachusetts Wildlife, among many others, telling us about the problem and what biologists are finding out. On Cape Cod, thousands of eiders were found washed up on the shores in the summer and fall of 2007. Why? What can Sportsmen do to help?
Whatever happened to the media frenzy about Avian bird flu? “It’s definitely coming,” “get ready,” “huge death toll in American population possible,” were just a few of the threats. Warnings to waterfowlers were posted in all the hunting magazines. “Wear rubber gloves,” “wear surgical masks.” Cook your duck meat to a charred crisp!!! Forgive me, but I have to rank the Avian Bird Flu epidemic in America right up there with Global Warming and Darwinism. You don’t still believe in the big bang theory and that the human race came from monkeys, do you?
Since this is my first column for Shotgun Life, a bit of background is probably appropriate. I was raised in New England and have been involved in the outdoor sports since a young man. At one time I wrote a weekly column for a newspaper about hunting and fishing. In recent years I have been in the shooting sports industry as an industry professional managing a company that manufactured sporting goods and imported shotguns from Italy. I just recently decided to return to my first love of photojournalism.
I was recently invited to go to South Dakota pheasant hunting, and what a trip it was. Kirstie Pike the President of Prois Hunting Apparel, Keli Van Cleave, and I went as Prois Hunting Apparel Pro Staff members and were treated to outstanding hospitality by the owners and staff of Pheasant Phun at the Olsen Ranch in Hitchcock, South Dakota.
Dave Olsen is the proprietor and the head wrangler of the operation. Dave's mom, Annie, and his father, Art are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. The film crew of SSOutdoor Adventures was also there filming for an upcoming show.