Double Down with the Prickly Pears
After drawing a blank on deer in New Mexico, we decided to head to south Texas in search of trophy whitetail deer. As usual, we took along an assortment of products which we had reviewed throughout the year. Even though all of these products performed well in our earlier field tests, there is nothing like using them on the sometimes harsh conditions of a hunting trip.
We began our preparations a month in advance, deciding on which pieces of equipment to take and making sure that our muzzleloaders were sighted-in. Yep, we again decided to use muzzleloaders for the entire hunt.
The equipment and supplies we settled on for the hunt included:
On this hunt, we decided to use both Blackhorn 209 and IMR White Hots pellets. The question was, who would use which powder? We have used both in our muzzleloader field tests and obtained excellent results with respect to accuracy and reliability for each. How do we choose?
Everyone has personal preferences when it comes to ML propellants. However, we were determined not to let our personal preferences determine who got to use which propellant. We bought a solid black marble to represent Blackhorn and a solid white marble to represent White Hots. We put them in a bag and each selected a marble. Mary got the black marble and I got the white marble. In this way, we insured that our impartiality was maintained. Overkill or extremely absurd? Maybe, but at least it guaranteed that our personal preferences did not enter into the decision.
Mary used 100 grains of Blackhorn behind a 260 grain Harvester Scorpion PT Gold bullet with a Crush Rib Sabot. I used two White Hots pellets (100 grains equivalent) with the 260 grain Scorpion and CRS.
We have a lot of fun teasing each other on the range (prior to the hunt) while sighting in our respective rifles. Every time Mary hits the 10-ring, she remarks, "Beat that" and of course, I can't. It is not because of my powder. It is just not fair to expect a 75 year old guy with the sun in his eyes, wasps buzzing around his head and recoil reflux to beat a young 50 year old woman with a steady hand. Okay, I am using the Barney Fife excuse again, but it works for me.
Once again, we took along the G-Outdoors Blackpowder Range Bag to store all of our supplies on the back seat of the truck. If you don't have one of these bags, you really should consider getting one. They are tailored specifically for muzzleloader shooters, with elastic loops for powder tubes and speed loaders. At the end of each day, we simply unload our accessories into the bag to make sure that they didn't get misplaced and everything is ready to go the next morning. This is not just a range bag, but a must have bag for muzzleloaders on a hunt to keep things organized.
DAY 1, Sunday
We arrived in Crystal City, Texas, around noon and were met by Jody Dietert, Kevin Cross' Prickly Pear partner. Kevin was still busy at the ranch loading up meat and heads for some red stag hunters. They were really nice trophies, but we were after whitetail. We followed Jody to the ranch and once again saw the smiling face of our old friend, Kevin. Although it had been a year since we had been back, it seemed like yesterday as we followed him to the newly constructed dining hall for lunch.
Talk about first class, this was even better than before. However, the nicest part of all was finding out that our favorite cook, Estela, was now working full time for the Prickly Pear Outfitters. My diet just went into high gear, as there is nothing that she prepares that is not gourmet quality.
Kevin took us down to his newly designed range to sight in our guns. To make it easy for hunters to get their guns on target, he uses Caldwell Lead Sleds. It only took two shots each to adjust our guns from shooting at our 5,000 feet elevation in New Mexico to the 600 feet elevation at Crystal City. We grabbed a couple of sandwiches from the kitchen and headed out to our blinds.
I was positioned in a blind adjacent to some really heavy brush, in the hope that the huge buck that Kevin had seen the previous week would appear. Mary went with Kevin to a blind situated in a small clearing among some equally heavy brush. He had also seen several good bucks wander through over the past few weeks on their way to the cattle areas. Yep, this is a working ranch, lots of cattle in the open areas and enough oil rigs to keep our GMC diesel dually running for a million miles.
Just before sunset, I thought I heard a shot, but with my ears, I could not be sure which direction it came from. I had no idea as to whether it was Mary or someone else off in the distance. I had a few does stick their noses out of the brush and quickly duck back in. The wind was at my back and they obviously got a good whiff of me. Maybe I need a bath before tomorrow's hunt.
Anyway, about half hour after dark, Kevin and Mary pulled up and draped across the game carrier was a huge nine point buck. Annie Oakley strikes again, one shot at 125 yards and he was down for the count. It seems that this buck came with several others, including a very wide six pointer and she decided on the nine point buck.
Sometimes it seems like I am jinxed. It has been 45 years since I have bagged a deer. I have shot a lot of other critters, oryx, ibex, elk and pigs, but no deer. I always seem to be in the wrong place at the right time. While my bride is ALWAYS in the right place at the right time. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.
DAY 2, Monday Morning
As normal, Kevin was pounding on our door at 0530. Jim staggered to the dining room for coffee and a cigarette. (Yep, he is still addicted.) By 5:45 AM, we were ready to go and piled into Kevin's truck. Mary was after some pigs and maybe a fat doe, while Jim was going back to his previous blind to wait for the big buck. By 10 AM, it was obvious that no pigs were coming near Mary and the few does that she saw were way out of range for her muzzleloader. Jim? Well, he saw some does that he tried to grow horns on and no pigs. Maybe we will have better luck in the evening. Back to the ranch for brunch and a nap until 3 PM. Oh, we could have gone for a swim in the new pool, but who wants to jump into an outdoor pool in December?
DAY 2, Monday Afternoon/Evening
Once again, there were no pigs in Mary's area and the does were way out of range. However, it was a different story at Jim's blind. He was practically covered-up with bucks, any one of which would have been respectable back home, but he was holding out for that big one that Kevin had seen. The one with six inch to eight inch tines.
Sure enough, out of the brush at 300 yards, the buck slowly walked toward the blind. All Jim could think about was, "Buddy, you are on the wall." Ah, but the rut was about to start and the buck decided to play with a few does on the way in. He didn't get within range until there was only five minutes of shooting time left and Jim could not see him clearly enough in the scope for a shot. If you have never been to the west Texas brush country, it gets very dark after the sun goes down; no street lights, no house lights, nada.
Some unscrupulous folks would have taken the shot simply to put a round in the animal and worry about chasing it afterwards, but not Jim. If he does not have a clear clean-kill shot, he will not take it. Thus, he returned to camp empty-handed again.
After an hour conference between the three of us, Jim agreed to change blinds in the hope that the wide six pointer that I passed on would come within range. Our reasoning was that the big buck he saw might be so used to chasing the does that he would never (at least during our hunt) come within range during shooting hours.
DAY 3, Tuesday Morning
Up at 5:30 AM, more coffee, a couple of sweet rolls and we were off. I was still looking for some fat pigs or a large doe and Jim went with Kevin to look for that buck with the wide rack. Jim's luck was finally changing. Bunches of deer came in and he did not know which one to shoot. Finally Kevin, a bit frustrated, pointed and said, "Jim, shoot the one in the middle of the bunch."
Jim is a little hard of hearing and replied, "Which one?"
No longer whispering, Kevin said, "THAT ONE, the one that is walking away." Okay, so at about 135 yards, Jim finally got his buck. Now, all that remained was for us to get a doe each and hopefully a couple of pigs.
Once again, Mary did not see any pigs or does within range. That is why they call it hunting and not killing.
When we got back to the ranch, Estela had a massive breakfast waiting for us, including eggs, sausage, fresh biscuits and homemade tortillas, all with her homemade gravy. After stuffing ourselves, we were ready for a nap, but we had to help Kevin dress and skin Jim's buck. Help by keeping him company, as he is so fast that he told us to relax and watch.
We let Kevin try out our new Case Ridgeback Drop Point knives. Needless to say, they stayed on the ranch with Kevin and Jody. That is how much they liked them. Dress and skin out two deer without sharpening; it does not get much better than that!
DAY 3, Tuesday Afternoon/Evening
We traveled to a remote section on the ranch for a fresh look for does and pigs. As we approached our blind, Kevin saw a pretty good sized boar sitting about 100+ yards out. Through his binoculars, Kevin could see that the boar was severely injured, probably from a fight with another boar. He told me to take him.
Well, it was bound to happen. I raised my gun, cocked the hammer, squeezed the trigger and the gun misfired. A bad primer. The ghost of Barney Fife still haunts me.
Kevin turned to Mary and said, "Your turn." Ah, my bride of these many years is a real shooter. She drilled that sucker in the head, just below the ear. He never knew what him and didn't even quiver. He was out of his misery. Ms. Oakley would be proud.
Later in the evening, a large doe came within range of Mary. Just as she squeezed the trigger, the doe turned away, resulting in a clean miss. Ouch, Mary missing? That doesn't happen very often.
Then, the doe came back out of the brush and stood broadside at just over 100 yards. This time, Mary dropped the critter with one clean heart/lung shot.
As usual, being alone, Jim saw nothing. He was getting a complex. He got his buck, but can't seem to completely shake the jinx.
DAY 4, Wednesday Morning (the last day)
Mary had her sights on another large boar, but young deer kept walking in front every time she was preparing to shoot. Thus, no second pig.
Jim was with Kevin on this day. (Kevin felt sorry for the old guy.) A very large boar came out just after dawn, within easy range. Jim felt if he shot the pig, no deer would venture out, so he passed. He wanted the venison more than the pork. Sure enough, a nice doe showed-up and he dropped her at almost 150 yards with a single shot. Of course, the pig never returned.
All told, six shots (counting Mary's miss) and five critters: four deer plus one hog. No difference in the performance of Blackhorn 209 or IMR White Hots pellets. Both propellants drove the 260 grain Harvester Scorpion PT Gold bullets home for clean kills.
For the first time, we both took along our Rudy Project Rydon Shooting Glasses. To say that these were invaluable would be an understatement. No more wind-burnt eyes from staring at the surroundings all day. These specs are virtually indestructible and lightweight, with a choice of polarized or non-polarized lenses. They cut the glare and make it easy to distinguish fine details at a distance. Neither of us are quite sure why it took us so long to find these glasses, but were sure glad we have them.
I intended to bring both the Olympia EX550 and the EX230 headlamps for the hunt. However, upon arrival, I realized the EX550 was still sitting on my reloading bench at home. After getting a lecture from Mary on my memory, she insisted that I use the EX230 to ensure that I did not hurt myself climbing in and out of the blinds in the dark. It was indispensable in setting up things in the blind before dawn. At night, the EX230 prevented me from falling, which at my tender age I cannot afford to do.
When on stand or in our blinds, Jim used the Caldwell Crosswind Meter to make sure that we correctly compensated for the wind. In addition, it also measures/calculates air temperature, barometric pressure, altitude and wind chill. This little gem is a precise and reasonably priced instrument, well worth the investment for any hunter or shooter.
After packing up all the meat, heads and capes and saying our good byes, we began the long drive back to New Mexico. It took us two hours longer than normal. Jim took a wrong turn at Del Rio, Texas and wound up 150 miles further east on I-10. You gotta love him, but sometimes . . ..
On returning home, we were tasked with the job of deboning the quarters that were not being cut for steaks. Jim decided to give his Stone River Change Blade knife set a try. After two days of deboning (with only a few slips to his fingers), he decided that they were the most under rated knives on the market. He will not give them to anyone. Two ceramic blades and a 440 steel blade makes this set perfect for just about any task.
We will be returning to south Texas in the spring to bring home the bacon. If you like whitetail deer or wild hogs, the Prickly Pear boys are your best bet. The price is right, the food is great and the accommodations are superb. Not to mention that Kevin and Jody are among the best guides in the west. You can check out their website at www.pricklypearoutfitters.com or call Kevin Cross directly at 318-518-1941.
Copyright 2015 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.