Noonan: Preserve hunts not easy at all
When I helped Dave Vanderzee -- owner of the Easton View Outfitters ranch in Rensselaer County make a dream hunt come true for a young hunter with severe health problems in October, I saw several Texas Dahl rams roaming around the woods and I knew at some time I would be hunting them.
That sometime was last week. Unfortunately, the morning that I arrived at the ranch it was a very cold 7 degrees and the ground was covered with a crusty 10-plus inches of snow. As someone who likes to sneak-and-peek hunt the 21/2-mile perimeter of the preserve, I knew the moving through the crunchy snow was not going to be quiet.
When I entered the preserve, I walked over a small rise toward a swamp and I saw movement across the pond on the edge of the swamp. And sure enough, it was a group of rams coming out into the field.
I laid down in the snow and watched them through my scope as they headed for higher ground. I waited until they were behind a hedgerow and started up toward them and I knew they could hear me coming. When I finally reached the hedgerow, I could see all 12 of them in a tight group looking right at me. They were about 150 yards away, slowly moving up toward the woods. I actually could have shot, but they were literally in a group so tight and too close together for me to shoot.
With the hedgerow as cover, I was able to get within 150 yards, but they still were in that tight group. It was then that I decided to go down and come at them from a different angle. To do this required crawling through the snow to stay out of sight - I know it took me at least an hour and a half to get to the thick bush. And when I did get there, I could see the rams a long way off, but headed my way. This particular hedgerow was so thick I could hardly move, much less raise my rifle. If I was going to get any shot here, I would need to clean out where I could kneel and make a sniper's hole to shoot from. It was a lot of breaking and bending of branches and twigs, but finally I was able to kneel and shoulder the rifle.
By now, the rams were closer, but still in that tight group. After kneeling for some time, I made a slight movement and they saw it. Now looking through the scope, I put the crosshair on what I believe was the leader, but he was leaning right against another ram; I still could not shoot safely. Slowly, they were walking away and suddenly I saw daylight between "my" ram and the one he had been leaning on. It was now or never. I had one shot. I raised the Ruger American .308 up and when I squeezed the trigger I had my Texas Dahl ram.
As I walked back down to the barn, a ranch hand, Doug Everard, greeted me and said, "Saw you sneaking around up there and heard the shot and from the smile on your face, I assume you got it; I'll get the Kubota RTV and we will go get him."
The ram tipped the scales at 138 pounds, and his horns measured 25 and 26 inches long and had 11 and 111/2 bases. It was absolutely a great and memorable hunt. If you want to see my ram, go to http://fishguydblog.blogspot.com/
WHAT DOES A PRESERVE HUNT OFFER?
In addition to the Wounded Warrior hunts that I had the privilege to witness at Easton View, and more recently watching a young man with severe disabilities take his first whitetail, preserve hunting offers an excellent opportunity for a parent to teach a first-time young hunter techniques and hunter safety. And one that I believe is very important is that a preserve hunt offers those with limited incomes and opportunity to experience the excitement of the hunt that they otherwise could not afford.
Now, I have also been told that preserve hunting is too easy. Let me just tell you about one of these "easy" hunts.
Last year, on a 90-degree day in July, I entered the Easton View preserve at sunup in search of a boar Berkshire pig. I believe on that day I covered every bit of that preserve that included walking through a muddy swamp - in which a fell twice -hunted to the top of the preserve twice and did not see a pig until 6 p.m. that afternoon.
I was in the upper field catching my breath and quenching my thirst when I saw four pigs come out of the heavy brush headed for the swamp. I made my way through the swamp and finally at 7 p.m. I finally clicked off my safety, successfully ending the hunt.
Reach Gazette outdoor columnist Ed Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.