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An annual pilgrimage

Izaak Walton Report

December 9, 2011
Blaine Kloppenborg , The Daily Freeman Journal

Howdy, pilgrim

It was Sept. 17, 1804, in what is now Southeastern Wyoming ... Lewis and Clark had spent many days plying their way up the Missouri River and out in the west on their famous expedition to the Pacific.

Capt. Lewis set out before sunrise with his muzzleloader and a half-dozen of his best hunters to enjoy himself on the land and to get a doe antelope.He had already taken a buck. The country was beautiful with huge herds of buffalo, deer, elk and antelope grazing everywhere on the plains and hills, or so the story goes. It's wild and rough country. Buffalo Bill Cody shot and killed the Cheyenne Indian war chief Yellow Hair on this flat-bottomed valley, or so the story goes. Now, it's my turn.

Article Photos

It's Nov. 17, 2011, and I'm out here on a three-state prairie dog hunt. Well, that kind of tells you where I'm at and where I've been. Wait a minute ... I'm getting ahead of myself.

Four of my old Marine Corps sniper buddies and I have been getting together each fall - this is our ninth year - for an annual fall shooting pilgrimage. ?We made it through Korea together, survived the Chosin Reservoir and we made it through Vietnam together. We made an agreement that those of us who survived and made it back to the land of the Big PX would get together for an annual shoot.

We alternate the hunts. One year we go out west to shoot prairie dogs and the next year we go down south to hunt gophers and ground squirrels. We made up our own rules - no rests, no sandbags (sand socks and packs are allowed) and no bi-pods. Everybody uses a rifle sling.

All of us turned our backs on the world and went to the Marine Sniper School at Quantico, Va. Some of the guys never made it back. They bought the "big one," they bought the farm, they found the dragon. And Father Time found some more of us. Five of us are all that's left.

Our first stop was Nebraska, up in the panhandle west of Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine - great prairie dog country. We enjoyed four great days of shooting here. We plan this event in the fall for a number of reasons. It's not too hot. No salty sweat running off your forehead into your eyes and smearing up your glasses. No ants, no horse flies, no deer flies and no bugs. The temperature is just right at about 48 degrees during the day and around 30 degrees at night. It's the time of year with the least amount of wind, and it's when we can all get time off.

The next stop was over into Colorado at a ranch just south of Last Chance, Colo., up in the high plains country. The sand burrs were so bad we had to spread military surplus rain ponchos on the ground for shooting mats. Wish you were here. The scenery is beautiful. The early morning sun is coming up and we can barely see the snow-capped Rocky Mountains to our west. Note to Joe McKinney:?If you're reading this, I used my Savage .22 Hornet rifle all the time. If the wind came up, I switched to the .243 Winchester. The Hornet worked fine out to 200 yards.

We stayed at a ranch there, complete with home-cooked meals and percolated coffee pot coffee, courtesy of the ranch owner's wife. Bradford "Dutch" Angier, owner of the ranch, hunted with us and drove us out to his "dog town" each morning. The weather was just right ... not to hot and not too cold. We talked a lot and we reminisced a lot and we drank a lot of coffee. How much??Well, probably not as much as you might think, but far, far more than my doctor thinks I should. The third stop was at our old stomping grounds. Taking Highway 287 north of Greeley, Colo., we eventually ended up near Red Buttes, Wyo., west of Medicine Bow National Forest. We were joined by rancher Don Kimmel who runs cattle on a sizeable spread up north on the Sweetwater. His second job is a government predator hunter.

The solitary story, hunter and dog, is one that has changed little since the dawn of man. It is a classic tale of loneliness and understanding that has been written on the lined faces of men who follow and corner their prey. Such a man is Don Kimmel. He and his dog, Tiger, hunt down lynx, coyotes, rogue bears and mountain lions for Uncle Sam.

The weather was cooling down and each morning there was a fresh wind that come off the Shirley Mountains. Now, we got a problem ... a brisk five mile per hour cross wind. I dial that into my scope. Two, my rifle was sighted in at the local Izaak Walton rifle range in September at an 80 degree temperature. Here it is a cool 38 degrees. Big difference. Cool air is dense. So I dial that in to the scope, also. After a couple of test shots, I'm zeroed in again, including an allowance for heavier bullets ... and back shooting high country prairie dogs, both blacktail and white tail.

Well, that's my story. Had a great time. Sorry you couldn't have gone with me.

And now, have a good weekend.



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