Field Notes of a Rookie Sportsperson

Natalie Duncan proudly poses with her target after large-bore shooting practice.
PHOTO Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Natalie Duncan proudly poses with her target after large-bore shooting practice.

Learning the language of hunting in preparation for dove season

 

By Travis Duncan
Colorado Parks and Wildlife

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First, we learned about “Bang ‘N Twang.” Then we were taught to “keep your chicken wing up.” Finally, we were instructed about our “cheek weld,” how-to “stay in your gun” and taught to identify “puddle ducks” and “potholes.”

Who knew hunting has its own language? Thanks to our participation in the year-long Rookie Sportsperson Program (RSP) offered by Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southeast Region in Colorado Springs, my daughter, Natalie, and I are becoming fluent in hunting.

And that’s the beauty of the RSP. It takes people like Natalie and me, who have little or no outdoor experience, and teaches them outdoor skills and, hopefully, inspires them to get outside and sample all the adventures available in Colorado’s great outdoors.

 We are learning about hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and much more. We became certified in the safe handling of firearms through a Hunter Education course and have been out on a couple of small-game hunts with our mentor, District Wildlife Manager (DWM) Logan Wilkins.

So about the “Bang ‘N Twang.”  It’s an event at Pikes Peak Gun Club east of Colorado Springs where our RSP group went with our CPW officer mentors to practice with shotguns, rifles, and bows.

The shotgun practice will prepare us for dove hunting at South Republican State Wildlife Area near Burlington in the fall. Rifle practice is preparing us for our upcoming big game hunts (I’m going pronghorn hunting). And the archery instruction is an introduction for those who might want to pursue archery hunting outside of RSP.

At the “Bang ‘N Twang,” my first station was shotgun. Area Wildlife Manager Frank McGee gave an introductory talk to our group, giving tips for using a 20-gauge pump-action Remington 870 to shoot at moving clay targets – meant to mimic the doves we’ll be hunting out east in a few weeks.

“You’ll hear us tell you throughout the day to ‘keep your chicken wing up.’ That balls up the muscle in your shoulder and keeps your gun in the pocket,” McGee said. “Get a good cheek weld to the stock. Stay in your gun and follow the clay all the way to the ground.”

After a few rounds, I began to get the hang of it. It was my first time shooting a shotgun and I had a bit of beginner’s luck. On my second round through, I hit five out of five clays, handing off my shotgun to the next person without a miss.

“Looks like Travis is ready for dove hunting,” McGee said.

After shotgun, I moved to the rifle station where we were practicing at the 100-yard distance. I used CPW’s lefty Savage Winchester 243 rifle. (I had used it in previous classes and received some tips from instructor Paul Paradise.) Then DWM Logan Wilkins provided some instruction and time for practice with a compound bow. The day ended with a potluck lunch.

The next day, I notice my left shoulder was sore from shooting guns all day on Sunday.

At our next class, Natalie and I attended “Waterfowl Hunting 101” taught by DWMs Ben Meier and Aaron Berscheid in Colorado Springs.

Meier encouraged everyone to keep binoculars and a waterfowl ID book with us in the field.

“You should be paying attention to things like size, shape, plumage, wingbeat, flocking behavior, colors and habitat,” Meier said.

We learned that a cold front often pushes new birds in. So cold, wet and miserable days are the best for great waterfowl hunting.

We learned tips for identifying puddle ducks vs. diving ducks. We learned about “potholes,” areas that stay wet and attract waterfowl.

And we learned that it can take a bit of an investment to get going in waterfowl hunting – that many hunters take years to invest in their decoys and mojos (moving decoys). At the end of the class, Meier suggested it could be worth it to go on a guided waterfowl hunt to see what the experience is like with someone who can provide all the gear.

Our heads were filled with waterfowl facts, but our RSP instruction in August was still not finished. Natalie and I still had “Deer Hunting 101” to go before the month were over.

The class was taught by DWM Cassidy English and CPW volunteer huntmaster Don Crispin.

“I started hunting when I was 5 with my dad,” Crispin said. “We did all kinds of stuff outdoors. That was the video game of the time. The thought back then was, give a kid a rifle and he’ll grow up and provide for his family.”

Both Cassidy and Crispin reiterated the importance of knowing all the details of the property where you intend to hunt.

“You’ve got to know where you’re hunting and where the private land boundaries are,” Cassidy said.

Crispin added: “Go scout your area and really put some time into it.”

Cassidy also reminded us of some of the ethical questions introduced to us in Hunters Ed.

“If you wound an animal, how long should you track it?” Cassidy asked us. “Some hunters will track an animal all day. But it’s got to be at least a couple hours of tracking to be considered a reasonable attempt.”

Then it was off to the shooting range to qualify to go big game hunting with RSP. Before we could join our mentor on a hunt, each of us would have to land three out of three shots on a nine-inch paper plate at a 100-yard distance.

We practiced with large-bore rifles. I was back with CPW’s lefty Savage Winchester 243 practicing 100-yard shots. I am learning to work with my breath and properly use shooting sticks to steady my body before I take my shot. And the stakes are somewhat high since those of us who want to shoot at the paper plates and qualify at the end of the day can go for it.

Just as I was about to get started, Don Schley, a firearms instructor since 2006, decided to adopt me for the day as his student. He helped me analyze what was happening with my shots while providing good hunting stories.

I told Don I had a pronghorn license for this fall and he was filled with stories about pronghorn hunting. He told me how he had belly-crawled 800 meters and used his orange Panama hat set on top of a sagebrush to get stability for his shot.

“In the brush, you have to think fast and improvise,” he said.

When DWM Logan Wilkins asks if anyone would like to qualify today, Natalie and I both volunteered.

After Wilkins shouted “go,” we had five minutes to complete a short sprint and take three shots at the nine-inch pie plate.

As I loaded my ammunition, I focused on steadying my breath and finding inner calm. The first time through, I got two out of three shots on the paper plate. On my second try, I got all three shots on the plate and Don gave me an excited fist bump. It looks like I can go pronghorn hunting with Logan this fall. (As if there was ever any doubt.)

My daughter was not as lucky. Natalie didn’t get her shots on the plate. She’ll have another chance to qualify next month at the RSP dove hunt at South Republican State Wildlife Area near Burlington on the Eastern Plains.

You can learn more about it in next month’s RSP column.

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PHOTOS: Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Left: Travis Duncan practices his large-bore rifle on the 100-yard range in preparation for Big Game Season.

Right: Natalie Duncan proudly poses with her target after large-bore shooting practice.

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CPW is an enterprise agency, relying primarily on license sales, state parks fees and registration fees to support its operations, including: 41 state parks and more than 350 wildlife areas covering approximately 900,000 acres, management of fishing and hunting, wildlife watching, camping, motorized and non-motorized trails, boating and outdoor education. CPW’s work contributes approximately $6 billion in total economic impact annually throughout Colorado.