Three Times A Charm With Prickly Pear Outfitters
Once again, we failed to draw deer licenses in New Mexico. We decided to return to south Texas and hunt with Kevin Cross of Prickly Pear Outfitters. We have been friends with Kevin for over ten years. Hunting with him is more like going out with an old friend than a guide. He sure knows the travel patterns of all the deer and feral hogs in his part of the country.
We decided to take along some of the products we had tested and reviewed throughout the year to give them a shot at more adverse conditions, another challenging hunt in the heavy brush country of south Texas. Once again, we were going to use our muzzleloaders. This is a bit different in south Texas, as most hunters use regular center fire rifles for hunting whitetails. We just like the challenge of using, not only a muzzleloader, but a single shot rifle. You need to be absolutely sure of your target before squeezing the trigger; otherwise, no harvest and an empty freezer.
The new equipment we settled on for this year's hunt included:
We began our preparations a month in advance, making sure that our muzzleloaders were sighted-in. This year we decided to use the CVA Aerolite Powerbelt bullets for our hunt. While we have tested the Aerolites for accuracy and velocity over the years, this would be the first time that we actually took them hunting. This hunt would provide an addendum to our previous Aerolite range tests.
On previous hunts in Texas, we have used both Blackhorn 209 and IMR White Hots pellets with considerable success. This year, we decided to use Blackhorn 209 exclusively. The reason being that it provided a slightly tighter group at 100 yards with the 300 grain Aerolite. Nothing against the White Hots, they are excellent and yield more than acceptable groups with all the bullets we have tested. We just wanted to be a bit more cautious on our first time out with new bullets.
We loaded three dozen powder tubes with 100 grains of Blackhorn. Actually, we weighed each load for accuracy. 100 grains by volume equals 71 grains by weight on our RCBS Chargemaster. (Blackhorn meters very well.) With new bullets on this hunt, we were not going to leave anything to chance.
We took along the G-Outdoors Blackpowder Range Bag to store our supplies on the back seat of the truck. If you do not 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 they do not 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.
The only drawback to our hunting in south Texas is that Crystal City (headquarters of the Prickly Pear Outfitters) is about 780 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. That makes for a killer drive, which would leave us exhausted. We break up the trip by stopping in Del Rio, Texas for the night and then drive the remaining 200 miles to the ranch in the morning. This puts us there just in time for lunch. It also gives us time to purchase our licenses. While non-resident licenses cost $315, Texas honors disabled veterans (like Jim) by giving them a free hunting and fishing license, even if you are not a resident. Because of that, we are always happy to spend our hunting and recreation money in Texas, because they truly care about America's veterans. A big THANK YOU TEXAS from the Clarys.
DAY 1 - Afternoon: Right on schedule we arrived in Crystal City and met Kevin for the short drive to the ranch. After unloading all of our gear into our very nice guest room, we grabbed a sandwich and headed to the range to make sure that our rifles were still correctly sighted-in.
On this trip we found out why we have to verify our guns. When we settled in to take our usual couple of shots to confirm that they were still on target, they weren't. Needless to say, it was a bit embarrassing, and became even more so when we struggled to zero them over the next half hour. I cannot repeat the words used by my bride, directed to me for not properly preparing her rifle for the hunt, or Kevin's smiles.
Both Kevin and Mary questioned whether I had actually spent those two days at Zia Gun Club in Albuquerque sighting in the guns. Like: "Were you blind?" "Had you been drinking?" "Were you actually at the range?" Eventually the ultimate, "Ok, Barney (Fife), we understand." After burning more powder than intended, we finally zeroed the rifles and, with a sigh of relief, headed to our blinds around 3 pm.
I never have much luck on the first evening. After years of hunting, the first afternoon in the blind is more of an observation time for me, rather than a chance to get my buck. I always see lots of deer, mostly does and forked horn, with a few small 8-pointers chasing the does, but nothing worth taking. However, with Mary, it is another story. Whether it is by luck or design, she almost always sees some nice bucks on the first evening and this was no exception.
As it was nearing dark, I heard her shoot. Score another one for Annie Oakley? Then another shot. Wait a minute, she is not known for having to take a second shot. Guess I would have to wait until they came to pick me up. Of course, all I saw were the usual does and small bucks.
Right after dark, Kevin and Mary drove up and sure enough, on the game carrier was a very nice 10-point buck, with two perfectly placed shots two inches apart, right behind the shoulder. It seems that when she hit him the first time, he dropped immediately, then got up about five minutes later. She put another one into him, he dropped like a rock and stayed down. How he was able to get up, let alone run, after the first shot, I will never know. The second bullet put him down for the count.
Mary had been scanning the brush with her new MeoPro binocs when he stepped out at about 100 yards and she was able to easily count the points. She and Kevin concluded that he was a buck worth taking and the rest is history. As usual, Mary filled her buck tag on the first day.
Day 2 - Morning: As usual, Kevin was pounding on our door at O'Dark thirty. After a couple of quick cups of coffee and a cigarette (I do plan on quitting), we jumped into his truck and headed out. Mary wanted to get her doe and maybe a pig and I wanted a buck, if I could find a good one.
In the truck came the expected discussion about who gets to use the MeoPro binoculars. Mary informed me that my old Leupolds would be fine for me. Old? Was she alluding to my advanced age, or simply stating that I could not appreciate the optics of her new binocs? HERS? I am still trying to figure out how they became hers, as we never had a proper discussion on that matter. She just made an executive decision that they were hers and that was it!
However, I grabbed the MeoPros, without asking, as I left the truck in the dark. They were mine for the day, no matter what. As I climbed into my blind, Mary hollered, "You will love them. Just remember, they are mine!" It was not long before I realized why she liked them so much. I could put them up to my eyes and see animals moving about that were nothing more than shadows with the naked eye. Heck, as good as my riflescope was, they were still dark in the scope. Okay, this story is about our hunt, not the new binocs, but wow, I have never had a pair that were so easy on the eyes, so clear and distortion free. I definitely have to get some for myself.
Anyway, as it became light enough to shoot and get a clear view of the animals milling about in front of my blind, I started counting the points on half a dozen bucks. It was just as easy as Mary said it would be. Even at 100-150 yards, I could count the points with ease and determine which bucks had the best racks. After about 20 minutes of scanning, I settled on a nice 8-pointer that was perfectly matched on each side. However, he would not stand still. He kept jumping around the does, never giving me a good shot, until finally he paused to catch his breath and gave me a clear neck shot. All I could think was, "Please, no Barney Fife curse." I squeezed the trigger and down he went without a quiver. Now, to wait and see if any hogs come around.
About the time I was patting myself on the back, he moved his head. Muscle reflex? Nope, the bullet had gone clear through his neck, shattering the spine, leaving a four inch diameter exit hole. The shock had taken just about everything out of him, but not completely. I climbed out of the blind, walked over and put him down for the count.
While waiting for Kevin and Mary, I heard a shot. It had to be Mary. One shot, she either got her doe or a hog. When they pulled up shortly before 10 AM, sure enough, there was a fat doe on the carrier. One shot through the shoulder and she was down for good. Annie Oakley is alive and well.
DAY 2 - Afternoon: After loading my buck onto the truck, we headed back to camp to dress him out, hang him in the cooler, have a hot lunch and take a nap. Later in the afternoon we would venture out again for our does and maybe a couple of hogs.
If you leave the dining hall at the Prickly Pear hungry, it is your own fault. After our hot lunch, the beds were calling and they were still calling when Kevin pounded on the door at 3 PM to head out. I almost passed for the afternoon, but neither Kevin nor Mary were having any of that. I stumbled out to the truck and we headed out, me to get my doe and Mary to get a nice hog.
Once in my blind, I settled-in and enjoyed watching flocks of turkey feeding all around, more Rios than I had ever seen, including several with really long beards. The few does that came around were small yearlings and I did not want to take one of them.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something large and black moving across the field of bluestem grass on my right. Dang, it was a big boar, all by himself, but he was out of range. I could tell he was an easy 200 pounds. Then, for no apparent reason, he turned and started coming towards the blind. I am not used to that kind of luck.
I followed him with the range finder: 175 yards, then 150 yards and he kept coming. At 75 yards he stopped broadside and I took the shot. The 300 grain Aerolite dropped him like a rock. He kicked once and it was all over.
I texted Mary that I got a good hog, but was staying in the blind until dark, in case the does came back. (They didn't.) No hogs came to Mary's blind, either, so we would try again tomorrow.
It took all three of us to hoist that hog onto the game carrier and back at camp he tipped the scales at just over 200 pounds. Bacon and sausage at the Clary's this winter.
By now, I am pretty confident that the Barney Fife curse has been broken. However, as they say, "it ain't over until it's over" and tomorrow was going to be full of surprises.
Before I go any further, I want everyone to know that in using the moniker Barney Fife, I mean no disrespect to my favorite actor, the late Don Knotts. His acting ability brought to life the character and endeared him to everyone who watched Mayberry. Although the name does describe some of my, shall we say, not so fine moments, I do love that in some small way it pays tribute to a talented actor who was also a very nice guy.
DAY 3 - Morning: Once again, Kevin was at our door at O'Dark Thirty, but this time we were ready. Mary was charged-up at the possibility of getting another big hog for the freezer and I was determined to find a fat doe to fill our tags. We settled into our respective blinds well before sunrise and waited.
Not long after daybreak, I received a text from Mary. She had gotten her hog, a large sow estimated to weigh at least 160 pounds. It seems that a large group of hogs came in to feed near her blind, including medium sized boars, sows with piglets and an exceptionally large sow without piglets. She zeroed in on the sow and dropped her with a single shot right behind the ear. On my best day, I could never make a shot like that, but for Mary it is normal. Some of you may remember that she dropped a cow elk with a head shot about five years ago, because she did not want to ruin any meat or damage the hide. Back at the ranch, Mary's hog weighed in at 200 pounds (not 160). Another big one for the freezer.
She and Kevin decided to wait in their blind to see if I got a doe before picking me up for breakfast. Once again, I watched the three yearling does play in front of my blind with a couple of young bucks. Then, two very large and fat does wandered in from the bluestem grass. At 65 yards, one stopped broadside, but I had to wait for the yearlings to get out of the way.
Once clear, I took the shot; meat in the freezer. However, when the smoke cleared, there was no deer. Come on, even I can't miss at that range. Thinking that I may have just wounded her, I fumbled to reload and spilled half my powder on the floor of the blind. Great, just great, that was my last powder tube. I climbed down from the blind to see if I could find her. No blood, but she was headed to the field of bluestem grass. After half an hour of searching I was near panic. I knew that I must have hit her, but where was she? In complete panic mode, I called Mary, "I made a bad shot and think I wounded my doe."
Kevin and Mary rolled up and took charge. "Where did you shoot her?" I pointed out where I thought I shot. There was no blood, so Kevin walked about 10 yards further out and there was a good sized spot of blood and a trail leading into the bluestem grass field. Drop by drop (and I do mean drop by drop), twenty yards into the Bluestem (which is knee high), the blood trail stopped.
Kevin contemplated calling for the dogs when I stepped not one foot in front of him and spotted something dark in the grass. I took another step and there was the doe, dead as a doornail from a heart/lung shot. That deer was not three feet from us and completely invisible in the grass. All's well that ends well. No animals lost and we filled our tags. However, Barney Fife still lives.
We were back at the ranch in time for lunch and a nap. This time, our naps were not interrupted, as we had filled our tags and could relax. However, we did get up in time for a great dinner and kidding around with Kevin. He may be our guide, but more importantly, he is our friend.
DAY 4 - Morning: Normally this would be our last day of hunting; but, having filled-out, we simply loaded the meat into our coolers, iced it down, said our goodbyes and headed for home. Another great hunt with Kevin and the Prickly Pear. We will return next year. Until then, we will relive a great hunt throughout the year with fond (and humorous) memories.
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