My sons 2023 Hunt Season

I have one final thought/comment on the antelope hunt before moving on to the elk hunt.

Part of the issue with other hunters encroaching in our space was probably because the tag holders included a mix of youth and adult hunters. Many hunters were searching for antelope and had practiced shooting long-distance while my son and I were trying to get within 150 yards. So, other hunters probably can't figure out what's going on when they saw us out in the middle of herds of antelope and we weren't shooting. We had one guy literally shoot over our blind and another group drive right up to us and start shooting at antelope 500 yards away, shooting over 17 times to shoot two antelope. They appeared to wound a couple that continued out of sight over a rise. So, maybe it's kind of like when most of us get behind an elderly driver and we can't figure out why they are in slo-mo? Maybe I want to believe it wasn't as brazen as it appeared.

Luke's elk hunt unit only had youth and some handicapped hunters during his hunt dates.
We departed on Luke's elk hunt on Thursday, October 5'th to give us a little time before opening morning on the 7'th. Luke was very excited and full of confidence after his antelope hunt.
Departing Home.jpeg
It took us several hours to arrive in our Unit where we had reserved a space at an RV park centrally located for accessing most of the unit.
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We got base camp set up before noon and so headed out to set up a tent in a remote portion of the unit where we had located the perfect camp overlooking prime elk thoroughfares.
Sadly, someone else had beaten us to our prime tent location and so we set up our tent in another area that we hoped would be our core hunt area. Thus, we'd have the option of staying overnight at our tent camp instead of traveling 40 minutes back to the camper location. We had scouted the Unit a month or so earlier but didn't really see any particular area that stood out other than scenery. We did get familiar with roads and access points which proved very helpful getting us started. I was leery of setting up base camp in a remote area without knowing for sure we would be hunting that particular area. My worry was that we'd end up driving in and out of rough roads to get to other locations. The RV park gave us paved road options to lots of the unit, but involved some drive time.

We spent the remainder of the day scouting for some sign of elk. We did not see an elk during our scouting trip and so had not seen an elk up to this point. We hoped to have some good options before opening morning.

More to come.
I'll apologize again for not taking more photos. I'm working to add "photos" to my mental checklist for hunts. It would have been nice to have photos showing some of the locations I attempt to describe.

So, we spent the rest of the day searching for good options for opening morning. I had marked quite a few locations on my OnX maps where we could access long ridgelines into more remote areas thinking we would cruise the high ground while calling and getting into position. So, we drove to several of these locations and walked ridgelines, looked for elk sign, called, and listened for elk. We got to our third location where an old road climbed out of a valley meadow and up to a low gap in a ridgeline that ran many miles in either direction, offering opportunity for an all-day hunt along the ridge which had lots of meadows and great looking elk habitat. We parked where the road became bad and started to walk up about 600 foot in elevation to the low gap in the ridgeline that sat at about 8,200 foot with the higher points on the ridge running between 9 - 9.4k ft. We had just gotten started when a small herd of cows spooked from where they had been bedded and ran sidehill from our right to left. That got us excited since it was the first elk we had seen up to that point. However, we got even more excited when within a minute of spooking the cows, we had a bull elk give a thunderous bugle from just above where the cows had spooked. This definitely gave us an option leading up to the opener! We backed out of that area to leave it undisturbed till the opener.

We checked out several more of the locations I had pre-selected but nothing else panned out with elk sign/presence. On the way back to our RV park camp that afternoon I decided to stop at a great looking ridgeline that also happened to be right along the main paved road. It was the sort of spot that could easily be overlooked by hunters flocking to the backcountry and higher elevations, so we stopped to walk one direction down the ridgeline and look for sign. It was an ugly location that had been badly burned over about 15 years before, sterilizing the soil so that trees were stunted and sparse. The ugliness probably also prevented hunters from stopping to check it out. It was not the sort of elk habitat we all dream of hunting in, plus it was closer to 7k elevation than the 9k stuff most hunters were focused on. We had only gone a short distance walking down the ridge when we heard elk bugling on the other side of the main road but on the same ridge. The ridge on that side of the road had private down in the bottom except for a 1/4 mile gap of public in the valley that could allow public land hunters to come off the ridge and through the valley to the mountainside on the other side of the main ridge. So, we quickly went to the portion of the ridge running on the other side of the main road and soon saw two different bulls on the opposite hillside. One was pretty nice and I remember thinking that we could ease down through the public land gap in the valley below and be close enough to shoot the bull on the other hillside. It looked very doable and I thought that we could probably fill our tag right there, right then, if season had been open. We stayed and listened/watched the bulls for 30 minutes or so and determined there were three different bulls and no cows in sight. So, this gave us another option for opening morning. We now had two bona fide locations prior to the opener and still another full day to scout!

The weather was low 60's for highs and upper 30's at night. This made me take more chances in hunting further from roads since we'd have more time to pack out the meat with just Luke and myself. I'm no youngster at 59 yo but feel in as good shape as I did in my 20's or 30's.
We started out at daylight on the morning before the opener. We briefly stopped at the nearby highway location to confirm the bulls were still bugling and in the same general location. We checked several areas but only one of them looked promising. This location was on an opposite ridge from the only road access, and looking across a very steep and deep valley/giant ravine. You could look across from the road and see the entire area since it had been badly burned years before, again, largely sterilizing the soil so that few trees obstructed the view. We stopped at a good vantage point and immediately started hearing bugling from the opposite ridge. There were three bulls with one of them definitely hitting the "trophy" category. We drove another 1 1/2 mile up the drainage to where you could access the ridge where the bulls were bugling to gage the difficulty. The ridge was covered with brush containing long, thin, and very sharp thorns. The ridge undulated severely to where you'd be up and down 700+ in elevation multiple times unless you found a way to side-slope the entire brushy 1 1/2 miles.

At this point we had the highway location as our opening morning "Option A" and the low saddle bugling elk as "Option B". Luke wanted to move the brush covered ridge up to "option B". There was a guy and his 8yo son camped along the road at this "brushy ridge" location and we stopped to visit. As we visited, we could clearly hear the bulls bugling from the brushy ridge and every minute or so a bull would bugle from within 1/2 mile below the camp. They said they had a bull bugling outside their tent the night before. As we visited, I noted several 4-wheelers driving by and glassing the bulls on the opposite ridge. We exchanged contact info with the campers and wished each other good luck. As we drove out of the area, I saw yet another hunter glassing the bulls on the opposite ridge. I tried to convince Luke that the eye candy on the brushy ridge would have multiple hunters descending on them opening morning. Based on our antelope hunt, I wasn't sure that hunters wouldn't try to make an 800+ yard shot across the canyon.

We quit scouting a little early that afternoon but stopped once again at the highway location to find the bulls were still bugling and roaming the hillsides within a mile of a major paved road. We agreed that this would be our Plan A for the opener in the morning. We still had disagreement on Plan B, but I thought our chances were pretty good at Option A since we'd seen no sign of other hunters.

We got back to camp in time for Luke to try his hand at fishing the local creek. The camp host said there were fish, but he didn't have any luck.

That evening, we showered up and got our clothing and gear organized for the opener. Seeing and hearing bugling elk the past two days definitely increased Luke's excitement level.
Opening morning we were up in plenty of time to drive the 15 minutes to our "Option A" at the highway location. We waited 10 minutes or so at the truck till is was barely light enough to walk down the ridge without a flashlight and towards where the elk action seemed to take place. We worked to a location just above the gap between private ranches in the valley below. There was a road that ran through the valley and connected the two ranches although the general public could not get to the road. Anyway, we heard elk bugling before we had gone 1/4 mile in. A couple of bulls were actively calling, but one was just over the ridge on the opposite side of private and the other was in thick stuff towards the top of the main ridge. We had worked down the slope towards the bottom containing private. So, we called and glassed the area hoping they would start moving on the nearby hillsides as they had in previous days. Long story short, the bulls managed to slip through undetected and onto the largest of the two private ranches where they continued to bugle. It was getting hot since we were a couple thousand foot lower than the 9k primo elk habitat. We sat in the gap hoping one would come in silent and then we cruised the border of the private ranch and up a draw where we hoped one of the bulls might have bedded down. We bumped a large herd of mule deer which added some excitement. We hiked back out to the truck about 11am, both agreeing that we didn't like hunting in the scrubby, sun baked habitat while worrying about ranch boundaries. I've done this kind of hunting in inferior units and I kind of felt like I was wasting a once in a lifetime type opportunity by focusing only on harvesting a bull. I told Luke that I believed we would get a bull at that location if we hunted it in the afternoon and maybe the next morning but I also told him that I wasn't enjoying the location. Luke quickly agreed and so we decided that we would only come back to this location if we didn't get action in better looking habitat.

I talked Luke into going to my "option B" and his "option C" at the low saddle location. The brushy ridge location was not far off our route and so I agreed to drive to the location and see what was going on. When we arrived we didn't see or hear elk and we didn't immediately see any hunters. We drove to the campsite where we had visited with the guy and his 8yo son only to find the camp was gone with no signs anyone had been there. We agreed that that was strange and so we ate lunch at their former campspot and saw several vehicles drive by glassing and calling. I later called the guy at the campsite and he said they packed up and found a new camp location after the spot was overrun by ATV's and other hunters at daylight opening morning. It's good when my intuition is confirmed.

So now, we're focused on the low saddle of a ridge that runs to 9.5k feet and containing the sort of habitat we all dream of elk hunting in. Plus, we had seen no sign of other hunters at the location. We arrived at the low saddle location around 2pm, parked at the valley bottom and started walking up the old road to the low spot in the ridge. I'd checked the other end of this road to find it gated and blocked off by a private ranch with no apparent way through. Luke and I could see no sign of vehicles as we walked up the old road. About halfway up we spooked a herd of seven or so cows and one smallish bull who ran up towards the ridgetop. We continued up the old road and to the ridgetop where we eased into the edge of beautiful meadows with loads of elk sign, including quite a few rubs. I called some and within a few minutes we had heard at least three different bulls in the vicinity. The largest sounding one wasn't far away, maybe 1/2 mile or less. This particular bull had a thunderous bugle and he'd go through the full range of possible elk sounds including chuckles, barks, and a bugle that must have had an echo chamber 3' in diameter. Every few minutes a cow elk would go absolutely berserk with a series of mews that made you feel like you were being attacked. Luke was impressed by the gargantuan bugles coming from less than 1/2 mile away. This is his impressed look.
Calling in Elk.jpeg
Call me a skeptic, but I became suspicious of the nearby bugles and cow mews. Neither the nearby cows or the bull ever changed location and the bull continued to call like a competitor in an elk bugling contest who is given 1 minute to go through the repertoire. They were beautiful elk calls. I've taken college courses in "Mechanisms of Animal Behavior", "Evolutionary Ecology" and others that make me believe that all but the very largest of bull elk would totally avoid elk bugles coming from what sounds like a prehistoric mastadon bull elk. That's likely why the other bugles stayed up on the ridge. We didn't have time to go after bulls further up the ridge, but decided to ease further down the road before dark to investigate. Sure enough, we had only gone a short ways before we saw a vehicle and probable camp. We're still not sure how the vehicle got into the location except maybe somehow gained access through the private ranch on the other end of the road. I was somewhat concerned about hunting so close to a camp, but it also seemed clear that they were focusing their efforts in the meadows that were at the elevation of the low gap, while the bulls were bugling further above and up the ridge.

So, now we had a dilemma of not wanting to encroach on other people, yet there was National Forest in all directions with one camp where the occupants seemingly hunt from their campsite. We decided we would come back to that location in the morning and go up the ridge either direction while making sure we give the campers lots of space.
Just read your story. Congrats to both of you!!! I have had my share of "run-ins" with hunters, NM seems to have more than their fair share. I had a Game Warden tell me that lots of hunters are lawless with no ethical approach to sharing the public land with others....yeah, whole new posting on that subject. Once again, great job. I'd be proud too! Keep us posted on the elk hunt.
Day 2:
The morning of day two, Luke decided he would shoot any bull larger than a spike and that he'd shoot either sex starting on day 3.

We arrived at the low gap in the ridge before daylight, again parking below and walking up about 600' in elevation. We stopped to listen where the old road entered the gap in the ridgeline. It was just beginning to become light and we could occasionally hear elk bugling in the distance at various locations. We gave a bugle which seemed to spark bugling in our vicinity. Two bulls were up the ridge to the north and one on either ridge to the east and west. Then, the monster bull from the day before started in full tilt and from the same campsite location. Then a small herd of bovine got spooked out of the woods below us and into the meadow. It gave us a brief charge of excitement as we thought they might be elk. Very soon afterwards the aggressive cow elk call started up from where the bovine had spooked. Again, it sounded like an angry bee or a cow elk that was extremely agitated and fixing to kick butt.

We started up the ridge to our north with the wind perfectly in our face as we left the commotion at the gap behind. It sounded like the two bulls on the ridgeline were about a mile away and near the highest elevation. So, we started up the ridgeline along a well-used elk trail with plentiful fresh elk tracks and dung. We went at a good pace in the beginning, listening for the occasional bugle to let us know we still had a ways to go. I could still hear the monster elk call from the camp below and I couldn't help but think of a situation where Conan the Barbarian or The Rock would be challenging people "Come and be vanquished!". I was a little scared to even see the elk back when I thought it might be real, it sounded like a T Rex.

This is the part of elk hunting that feels very similar to turkey hunting, except elk can smell you but lack the exceptional eyesight of a turkey. It was a good chance to instruct Luke in areas we didn't encounter so much antelope hunting. Things like keeping the scope at lower magnification since we were in close quarters, playing the wind, and being aware that elk could approach us from behind while we're focused on easing up the ridge. On the antelope hunt, Luke preferred to carry the shooting stick while I carried his gun. On this trip he wanted to carry the gun while I handled the shooting stick under strict orders that I do not mess with his pre-set height adjustment!

We went much slower as we got within 1/2 mile or so of the two elk. One elk sounded smaller with a slight squeak to his bugle, while the other sounded fully mature. I only called when I needed a location on the bulls as we slowly moved up the ridgeline and towards an optimal spot to "set up". I pointed my calling away from the bulls and tried to keep it muffled and give the impression that we were further away than we were. Luke had been a little critical on some of my bugles, and admittedly there were several calls over the past couple of days where I felt I needed to immediately follow up with another call as cover. Everything seemed perfect on this approach, the wind, my calls, no other hunters interfering. After one of my bugles Luke looked at me and said "that's your best one yet". As you get closer, there's much more at stake since you have lots invested. You blow an elk bugle very loudly and any mistake is huge. So, I was beginning to feel like the free-throw shooter where the game is on the line....., the pressure! About 100' elevation before the crest we could tell that we were getting very close and we stopped to set up where we had clear openings up to the top and both sides of the final knob approaching the high point of the ridgeline.

We had just gotten set up and I was getting ready to start calling, when both bulls bugled and let us know that we could get a little closer and to the top of the knob. We eased to the top of the knob with the wind still in our faces. We got over the crest and to a point where we had some cover to our back and clear views down the ridge and some openings in brush to our right and in front of us where the largest bugle was coming from. We set up the shooting stick for a standing shot and we both stood just in front of some brush to break our outline.

I hoped to finish it off without having to risk another bugle at close range (akin to blowing the final free-throw), plus I thought the bull might be more likely to check us out with only cow calls. So, I gave out a few cow calls, again throwing the sound in the opposite direction from the bull. Both bulls immediately responded and the largest one sounded like it was getting closer! I looked at Luke and told him I thought it was coming in. However, after looking at Luke, I could tell that he was already at a high level of "readiness" and didn't need any direction on what that meant. It was quiet for a few minutes and so I repeated the cow calls. The sqeaky bull bugled from just down the ridge and much closer than before. Then, from my right and in front I see a large dark shape coming up from below and toward the ridge top and our "set up". Luke see's it also as I said "here it comes". We could only see a dark shape at first, then we started to see flashes of headgear as it got nearer to the top of the ridge. It came steadily up the slope and it became clear that we were looking at a nice bull..., no doubt a shooter for Luke!

Luke slowly panned his rifle, following the elk as it approached the ridgetop and wide open shooting lanes. The bull continued methodically walking up to the ridgetop..., 100 yards, 80 yards, 60 yards until it stops right at the top of the ridge at 40 yards and standing in the middle of our best shooting lane. I hear "BOOM" and the bull lurches forward and then turns to its right going away from us and down the ridgeline. I hear Luke jack another shell into the chamber and he fires another up the arse. This shot turned the bull back to our left and it angled down the hill and out of sight. We had discussed that he needed to continue to throw lead till it's down and I was super impressed with how quickly he cycled the action. He seemed certain that both shots had hit where he was aiming. We'd had lots of range time and so I felt good about it.

I marked where the elk had been standing at first shot and also at the last location we had seen it. We couldn't find blood at either location. We waited 30 minutes and then started sweeping the flats on the hillside where we'd last seen the elk running off the ridgeline. On the second sweep I saw the elk out in front of Luke. I yelled "Luke" and then I realized that I wanted him to find the elk and so when he looked over I just told him to look close in brushy spots. We went a few yards further and Luke saw his elk on the ground. He was off-the-charts excited as he informed me that he'd found it!

Elk Harvest.jpeg

I was already thinking about packing out elk. We were about a mile from the vehicle and about .10 mile from the ridgetop, so at least it was downhill after we got meat back up to the ridgeline. We got three quarters and backstrap/neckmeat out by that afternoon and hung the final quarter in the woods. We came back in the morning to cut off the head that we'd caped the day before and pack out the final quarter. Luke had packed out a front quarter the day before but it almost broke him and so I only had him carry backstrap, inside tenderloin and such while I carried out the remainder. The head almost broke me as I estimated it to be about 120 pounds. It was a great bonding experience and we have food security this year thanks to Luke!

Luke's antelope and elk heads are both at taxidermist and hopefully he thinks of time with me and our hunts together whenever he views them and talks about them in the future. I dread having to respond to every visitor to our house who congratulates me on the antelope and elk and I have to confess they belong to Luke.

Luke has a couple more hunts this year for deer, ducks, squirrels, rabbits in Arkansas and so maybe I'll add more photos later. He's super excited about squirrel hunting with his "new-to-him", Winchester model 43 pump .410 shotgun. He'll be limited to "big bucks only" since his sister wants to harvest a deer and our freezer is full. I'll just sit back and watch and be the duck guide. Ducks is my personal favorite!

Thanks for following along.
Congrats! What a great hunt and a great goat and elk!
My 10yo son was lucky to draw his first choice antelope and elk tag here in NM for this year. We just finished up his antelope hunt and I thought I'd share the very few photos that I took during the adventure. We departed two days before season began (Aug 24'th) to check spots before season opened on the 26'th.

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I was familiar with the unit and so we found a few spots holding nice antelope prior to opening morning. We had lots of bad luck with other hunters. I might do a whole separate post on other tagholders who lack any form of hunter etiquette/morals. We shifted our opening morning plans because prairie dog hunters came to our spot the afternoon before and spooked off the 50 or so antelope we had been viewing.

Opening morning we were up at 4am to be at a backup spot at daylight. The initial spot didn't work out and so we drove to other widely separated parcels of public land to glass. My son had one great opportunity at where a nice buck with six doe came within 100 yards and briefly stopped a couple of times. Again, another hunter came in right on top of us as he tried to get to the same antelope. At least this time the antelope had already departed on their own accord prior to the other hunter charging in.
Luke didn't shoot because he was having trouble quickly adjusting his shooting stance and shooting stick to get comfortable, but I was very proud that he didn't pull the trigger when he knew he was shaky. We covered more area for the remainder of the day and Luke had a couple more brief opportunities at decent bucks. We ended the first day at 7:30pm with Luke disappointed at our bad experiences with other hunters. I'll save the worse run-in for a potential separate post since it's deserving. Without any prompting, Luke spent about an hour at camp practicing with the shooting stick and rifle.

Day 2 we were up at 4:30 and positioned ourselves in an area that antelope had consistently been using. It was a beautiful sunrise and at daylight we had antelope within 300 yards, including a smaller buck.

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At this point, Luke was still wanting to shoot a buck even though he was starting to waiver towards shooting any antelope. We wanted to keep the shoot distance to 150 yards based on past range practice experience. We finally tried to put a stalk on a buck, but there were far too many antelope eyes in the area to make that successful.

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We broke for lunch back at the truck and had a great discussion about our bad experiences with other hunters and the importance of having personal standards you uphold despite a strong desire to fill an antelope tag. It's better to fail than impose on antelope hunters who were first to an area. I'm pretty sure he bought into it.

After lunch, Luke decided he would harvest any adult antelope. We relocated to one of the larger blocks of land holding antelope and proceeded to cover ground and glass for antelope. We spotted a group of eight antelope including a pretty nice buck at about 400 yards. They were slowly moving in a direction to where I believed we could use a slight rise in the terrain to get in front of them. It kinda worked except the antelope were moving faster than anticipated and we arrived at the other side of the rise at the same time.

The antelope weren't exactly sure what we were, but started running away. They went a very short distance before they abruptly turned 90 degrees to where they were traveling parallel to us and actually coming a little closer. They briefly stopped once and I noticed that Luke already had the shooting stick and gun in place and then he said that he knew he could shoot the buck from where we were standing. I said OK, even though I didn't have time to get the rangefinder on them. I estimated 200 yards. The antelope moved again but stopped one more time to check us out. I started to tell Luke that he might want to raise the crosshairs just a bit, when I hear "BOOM". The buck immediately folded and Luke exclaimed "I got him!". I told him to jack another one in and get ready to shoot again if needed. The buck never got up, struggled for about 10 seconds and then disappeared in the sea of grass. We organized our gear and started walking towards where the buck was. It's amazing how they can disappear in the grass. I was beginning to think it had run off when we weren't looking. Plus, it was some distance further than I had estimated.

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Luke said it was the best day of his life and couldn't quit smiling and talking about it! The distance was 227 yards and he got on it within 10-15 seconds. He definitely made me proud.

It took us about 1:15 to cape, quarter and ice it down and we were back at camp by 5:30pm to bask in our success.

Back home with a final photo before we take his trophy to the taxidermist.

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So, next up is his 1'st choice either sex elk tag. Hopefully we can share another success story. He learned a lot on this trip to take into elk country in October.
So, we've returned from a Thanksgiving week hunt back east, although we were still west of the Mississippi River.

We were mainly deer hunting although having a freezer full of elk and antelope changed our game plan. Sarah and I made sure that Luke knew he had ruined our hunting season by hogging all the freezer space. So, Sarah was limited to one deer total and for the first few days she needed to limit her harvest to 8 or 10 point wider than the ears (using eastern deer rack terminology). Luke was limited to a trophy whitetail and I showed him lots of photos so he knew the difference and was aware of mass vs/ big 10-point with spindly rack. His luck ran out on this trip and I don't think he saw a deer while he was on-stand. His stands were all ground-based given his age. We have 14 ladder stands and so Sarah had the flexibility to independently manage her hunt logistics. She had lots of opportunity to shoot young bucks and does, but ended up passing on shooting a deer. I had previously told her that she would start gutting her own deer this year and I think that fact influenced her decision to not pull the trigger on a small buck or doe. I had three opportunities to shoot bucks that on any other year I would have been proud to harvest. But, with over 3k in current taxidermy bills, none of the bucks were nice enough to warrant more financial pain. Next year they should all be wall hangers and I won't have to think about it.

We've had feral hogs move into our area and so we shoot them on sight. Sarah had a group come through the second morning she was on-stand.
Sarah with Hog.jpg
We are lucky to have some cell service on most of the property and so Sarah had contacted me when she shot the hog. It took me about an hour to get to the location with Luke to help her blood trail. When Luke and I arrived, Sarah notified us that she had already successfully blood-trailed the hog and she suggested it would be good for Luke to give it a try. What a great idea! She had used a 143 grain ELDX out of a 6.5 Creedmoor, putting one right behind the shoulder from about 40 yards. Sarah told Luke which way it ran after her shot. There wasn't any blood for over 45 yards. It was a tough blood trail with lots of direction changes. Luke needed help on a couple of locations and the hog had died next to a large rock and downed trees where it was hidden from view till you got right on top of it. It had made a dramatic turn right at the end and only left a couple smears of blood on a large rock just above the photo above. It was a great experience for Luke and showed me that Sarah knew what she was doing. The hog went twice as far as the elk with a similar shot, and Luke's' antelope dropped on the spot. Hogs are super tough and definitely the superior mascot for college sports! The bullet didn't exit.

We were hoping to do some duck hunting, but drought conditions had reduced our duck hole down to a small sump. Hopefully this changes before early January when we return.

So, we spent a lot of quality time in the woods and gave the kids opportunity to learn valuable hunting skills and ethics.

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Hopefully I can add some duck hunt photos at some point. Luke is finally big/strong enough to swing a shotgun and shoot skeet at the range, so hopefully he get's initiated into duck hunting this year. He got hooked last year watching Sarah and I have one of my best duck hunt days ever!

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Clifford Radcliffe