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Game Changer

Looking at the differences in big game hunting and wingshooting and discussing them on a quail hunt recently at the 74 Ranch, something came out in the discussion that intrigued me to say the least.  The equipment has certainly evolved in the past 5 to 10 years in archery, long-range rifle and even pistols in the big game part of the arena.  I was privileged to know and photograph the late, great archer Fred Bear who shot a recurve bow with great accuracy, but today we have compound bows with sights that are much more accurate than even Fred was in his day! 

The evolution of the crossbow has even made it easier for the novice to achieve hunting accuracy with an arrow in very little time.  New long-range rifles with new cartridges are built and loaded today and topped with scopes that will even figure the distance and hold-over corrections at distance allowing for incredible accuracy, but as the distance increases, the hours of trigger time needed to maintain the accuracy increases dramatically. 

Where will it all end? Who knows, but it has been fun watching it evolve, and participating in the evolution was even more exciting for us during our marriage of 43 short years. “Seems like only yesterday,” as Gil would say!

Gil Ash with Kriehoff K-20
The new Krieghoff K-20 Parcour barrels are not separated like the target barrels, which allows for a much lighter set of barrels that brings the total weight of the gun to 6 3/4 pounds, which is an ideal weight for hunting and field use.

Fishing, too, has evolved and given birth to some of the greatest athletes on our planet and their equipment has evolved to some of the most sophisticated state of the art equipment we could have only dreamt about just 10 short years ago.  When we are not coaching or, “talking for a living,” as Vicki would say, you can find us on the middle Texas coast chasing speckled trout, flounder and red fish.  We have been privileged to test some of the newest Shimano bait casting reels and have learned some things about how the best of the best equipment is not necessarily the easiest to use.

Most of the less expensive bait casting reels on the market are made for 80 to 90 percent of the market and are much more forgiving that the Garcia 5000 I bought at age 13 fifty years ago.  Bearing technology continues getting better and the braided lines of today make what we used as few as 10 years ago seem so obsolete! 

As I began testing the more expensive reels, I called my contact and mentioned that some of the more expensive and higher performance reels we had seemed more temperamental and harder to learn how to make them perform as well as some of the less expensive ones.  I learned that to take advantage of some of the most sophisticated adjustments, I needed to learn how to be more consistent with my own casting game, which required hundreds and hundreds of casts to begin to be able to really make the “better” reels with ceramic bearings perform as well as they could.

We have been blessed with the ability to enjoy the outdoors with our family and many families from all over our continent as well as three other continents first as hunters and fishers and for the past 27 years as professional clay/wingshooting coaches.  We have lifelong friends all over the world, some of whom we will see again at Convention this year or maybe in a shooting clinic somewhere in 2019. 

Shotguns, too, have evolved since sporting clays began in 1983.  Back then, there were no sporting clays shotguns — only skeet or trap or hunting guns.  First Browning got into the sporting clays market and then Beretta and then the rest of the manufactures followed suit and began introducing sporting clays guns.  Shotgun ammo has dramatically evolved to the point that we can hit targets at distances today that in the mid 1980s we could not dream about, which brings me back to the quail hunt at the 74 Ranch.

Both Vicki and I shoot Krieghoff K-20s in 20 or 28 gauge with Isis Recoil Systems on both guns. But on this trip, as well as our high-volume trips to Bolivia and Argentina, Gil changed something on his gun.  He had a set of the new Parcour 20- and 28-gauge barrels that had been fitted to his K-20 frame. We must tell you that the new K-20 Parcour at 6 3/4 pounds in 20 and 28 gauges is an incredible game changer for both of us, and we have already ordered Vicki a set of each and hopefully Gil will be out of the dog house as soon as they arrive. 

This combination of Krieghoff reliability in a hunting gun that can be carried all day is amazing, and to have target gun reliability in a hunting gun is something that I thought would never happen.

On the quail hunt, the weather had been so wet, the grass was knee high and it was hard to get around in. The ground was even soft under foot.  One of the hunters at the lodge said that the drought in Texas had been interrupted by the occasional flood and we could not agree more.  There have been great birds in Texas since 2016 due to the spring and summer rains and we were there to take advantage of the opportunity. 

Here are a few tips that we constantly share with shooters who are going to chase quail.  Snake boots are a must in the desert country of south Texas and, if you are going to get off road, get a good pair of those high top boots or wear some leggings to protect you from thorns and snakes.  Each time when you take your boots off, check the bottom of the sole and look for thorns that have penetrated the sole and, with a pair of needle nose pliers, get them out so they will not work their way up into your foot in the middle of a great hunt. 

Walk in your boots before you arrive at the hunt and wear good thick socks to prevent blisters.  We typically go to the sporting clays range wearing the very clothes and boots that we wear on the hunt and practice shooting some sporting clays, especially the quartering going away shots, and work on mounting the gun into the shot.

Mounting into the shot is probably the most consistent mistake we see hunters make, especially on quail because, the flush being confusing, they fail to focus on one bird. Instead, they quickly mount the gun and then have to find a bird and chase the bird down missing consistently behind.  Several things need to happen before the flush, such as knowing where everyone in the party is and where your safe shooting zones are. That includes the guide and the dogs. 

number 6 shotshells
Using Rio Royal Pheasant copper coated #6 shot in our 28 gauges with Briley extended thin wall modified over improved cylinder chokes was an ideal combination for quail and lead to many one shot kills!

We typically position ourselves fairly close to the point and only shoot birds outside the positions of everyone in the party.  As we mentioned before, picking out one bird in the flush is critical to connecting.  Mounting to the lead in front of that bird, all the while knowing where everyone in the party and the dogs are, allows for consistent success in the field. 

You typically have very little time to mount and take the shot and, as a result, we would tell you to practice your gun mount before going on any flushing bird hunt.  Another bit of information that many find valuable on their hunts is to use #6 shot on quail.  We were using a new load from Rio Ammunition of copper coated #6s in our 28 gauge and, before some of you start balking at what we just said, hear us out about using #6 on quail. 

Twenty or so years ago at the same 74 Ranch hunting quail was an exceptionally good year for wild quail. The owner of the ranch, George Robinson, asked Gil if he would like to accompany him and Milo, the hunting operations manager, on a quail hunt. Gil agreed and volunteered to bring the 28-gauge ammo. 

As they were loading up, both George and Milo, as well as Jeff Clark, the dog handler, were taken back at using #6s on quail because they were afraid the larger shot would blow the birds up.  At Gil’s insistence they agreed to use the #6s and they were off to the Oats Trap for an afternoon of quail hunting.  Two things happened on that hunt that afternoon — we all limited out on quail in record time and there were no birds flying off over the brush with a leg down. 

When you hit them with #6s they are on the ground waiting on the dog not flopping around so the dog work is done in record time and you are on to the singles or the next covey with no wounding loss. The other important thing to us is that the larger shot either goes through the meat or lodges against the breastbone so there is no shot hiding in the meat for you to find during mealtime!–Gil & Vicki Ash




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