A Hunt Like No Other
I had heard about Twin Creek Ranch in Montana, but really didn’t know what they were all about. When I first talked to them, they were still in the process of putting some of the finishing touches on their operation. A few months later I received a call from them inviting me up to the facility to experience what they have to offer. A few weeks later I was on the road to Twin Creek which is a little over an hour north of Billings. The closest town is Winnett, and I stopped there to get directions to the ranch. It proved to be a good idea.
The ranch sits back off the highway by several miles and there are several twists and turns. About the time I thought I was lost I saw the lights from the ranch. It was just after sunset when I arrived there. There were several people running around between the lodge and the barn getting things ready for the next day’s hunt. I met Zack Taylor who I talked with over the phone and he advised me a friend of mine was there. I had no idea of who it could be, and when I went into the barn, I found it to be John Way who functions as a consultant to businesses like the ranch. I hadn’t seen him for the last few years and it was a pleasant surprise to see him there. We ended up sharing a room and hunting together.
Around the dinner table I met a few more of the shooters and Mike Taylor who is the owner of the 19,000 acre ranch. Dinner consisted of a great salad with a good selection of homemade dressings, and a thick T-Bone cooked to perfection, a large baked potato will all the fixings and some steamed vegetables. It was accompanied with some fine wines and beers. It wasn’t until after dinner that I found out who Mike Taylor is and what he has accomplished. He is a master class shooter and competes in FITASC and sporting clays. He has many gold medals including Olympic Gold.
The next morning after a grand breakfast of eggs and a selection of meats and breads we headed out to where they have a casual five stand operation. Being winter, they had shut down their sporting clays course and only the 5-stand is in operation. There was a good selection of presentations including a high fast crosser coming off the top of a hill to our left and a chondel out front and center. It was a good warm up for the shooting we’d be doing shortly. We all had to opportunity to take the targets from a few different positions.
We all loaded our gear and ourselves into a couple of large SUV’s for the trip to the part of the ranch were we’d be hunting. On the drive we had a good chance to get the lay of the land which had a great variety of environments for different types of game. As we drove we saw many deer and some elk along with tons of pheasant, Hun’s and chucker. The driver told us they don’t allow drive by shootings at the ranch, which got a laugh from all of us. It sure wouldn’t have been difficult to get a few birds by stopping on the two track route.
What really makes this upland bird hunting and big game hunting ranch different from all the other places I’ve hunted is their hunting program. They have never planted any type of pen raised upland bird on the ranch and never have they planted any large game animals on the ranch. And they don’t plan on doing so. What was rather surprising was that no matter where we were along the route you could almost always see some wild game from the point you were at that very moment. All the game taken on the ranch is and will be native game. They want to keep all the blood lines pure as they feel that it offers a little different experience to the hunter. And after hunting there, I’d have to agree. From some studies that have taken place at the ranch they realized that if they limit the number of hunters each year that they’ll be able to maintain the native stock without any pen raised birds being added to the wild flocks. The same is true for the big game as well. They have determined that if they limit the upland pheasant hunting to 60 hunters per year with each hunter taking three birds a day for three days the flocks will maintain themselves. It was exciting to be one of the first hunters to experience the adventure.
I had asked them if they would mind if I took my own SUV to the fields and they suggested that I don’t. And after seeing some of the streams we had to ford with rushing water and ice on both side of the steams, I understood. The SUV’s and trucks were almost getting stuck in the rapidly flowing water and were having a difficult time getting a grip on the ice with the wet snow tires. Sometimes we’d have to make two or three tries to gain the other side.
When we reached the area where we would be hunting, we decided on where we would each hunt. Five went down into the dried up river bottom which was quite broad, over 50 yards, and I stayed up on the right shoulder. The bottom had a lot of high grass and other high plant life so it was good cover for the birds. The grass on the shoulder wasn’t as high but still was good cover for the birds. There was also some high brush and trees at the edge of the shoulder above the river bottom. The hunters below me had gone about 30 yards before the first shot was fired but no birds went down. A little further and a few more birds took off and two birds were bagged. One bird that escaped the flats came over the tree tops but was too far away for me to make a killing shot. Having walked about another 30 yards I had a rooster take off from the tree line on my left crossing to the right about 40 yards in front of me. He never went very high or far as my first shot dropped him from my 20 gauge Browning. It was a nice head shot made with some Kent ammo that was 7/8’s of 7.5 shot. There were 6 or 7 birds taken in the river bottom and the one I got made for a pretty good start to the morning. We then walked over to another area.
This area was a little more irregular with a lot of small hills and gullies and had a lot of good cover as well, but not as high as the river bottom. No sooner had we got there than birds started taking off in all directions. We soon got split up pretty well and you wouldn’t know if you were flushing a bird or if someone flushed a bird too you. Before I knew it I had a high crossing rooster from left to right at 30 yards and shot him and I was sure he was dead before he hit the ground. I just got done replacing the spent shell and closing the gun when several birds including a rooster took off below me to my left going away. I took the shot and hit him as well. I replaced the shell again and started looking for the bird I had just shot. I was sure I hit him well as I saw lots of feathers coming off the bird. But after searching for several minutes I realized I must not have hit him as well as I thought. I then went over to where I shot the first bird and encountered the same problem, no bird. I searched and searched, but found nothing. One of the other hunters with a dog apparently noticed my plight and came over and helped me search for the bird. The dog picked up the scent but it led to nowhere. I was a little pissed at myself as I never had anything like this happen before. All the years I’d been bird hunting I’d heard that wild birds are harder to kill, but I’d never encountered a problem like this. I’ve always hunted with a 28 gauge or 20 gauge with 3/4’s, 7/8’s or one ounce of shot and done well. I was a little embarrassed and decided to change my ammo. The morning hunt was a little short as we spent the first part shooting at clays.
After a great wild game lunch with plenty of tasty trimmings we relaxed for a brief time and then headed back out for more pheasant. This afternoon I was shooting Federals new Prairie Storm 20 gauge 3” shells. It’s a 1 ¼ oz. load of number 5’s traveling at 1300 FPS. These are the heaviest load and the fastest shells I’ve ever shot at upland birds. To tell you the truth, I almost feel it’s too much of a shell to use for what we were doing, but after this morning’s loss of two birds, maybe it’s just what I needed. We headed in an entirely different direction on the ranch and again saw all kinds of wild game both large and small. It almost felt like we were in a nature park with all the different wild game we could see. And the terrain was always changing and you’d find you were in this different little micro climate that attracted the animals.
The area where we started hunting was a lot flatter but it had a lot of different heavy cover areas and standing timber. We all spread out in a line over 40 to 60 yards across and headed out. We had gone about 40 yards and the dogs flushed the first bird and John Way dropped that one pretty fast. Two more birds were taken shortly after John’s and then one flew up in front of me quartering to the right. After I squeezed the trigger the bird fell like a brick. This bird was found right where it landed. I felt a little better about that. After we got to the far end of the field we hooked a right going back around the standing timber. There were three more birds taken as we started our return. About half way back to the truck another rooster took off in front of me going away. I brought the shotgun up to the bird which was around 40 to 45 yards and squeezed the trigger.
I found it right where it landed. I had filled out for the day so I decided to take photographs of the other guys hunting. Before the end of the day we all had our three.
It seemed the Prairie Storm shells did their job and I did mine and felt a lot better about not having any wounded birds getting away. I used those shotshells for the next two days and didn’t have a wounded bird that was moving around when I went to pick him up. I guess there is something too that saying, “wild birds are harder to kill”.
The next day while driving to our next morning hunt we flushed a covey of Hun’s right off the edge of the road and we watched where they landed. Mike mentioned that it looked like they landed close to the area where we’d be parking. When we got there, we tried not to make a lot of noise and I slipped a couple of Kent one ounce loads of 7.5 for these birds. There was a low area just to our right and that’s where we thought they landed. Since I got out of the SUV on the right side I was closest to the low area and all the other guys lined up to my left side. I had barely taken a dozen steps when the covey flushed and started to go left around a little rise. I got two shots off and got one bird just before it disappeared behind the rise. Most of the other guys never even saw the birds as they were too far back from the edge. By late morning we had all gotten our three birds which meant we had some free time this afternoon.
After another grand lunch I went with John Way as he was going to do some coyote hunting and I thought I’d get some good photos. He had a very nice Bushmaster .223 tricked out in a winter Camo design he did himself.
His secret was to go to the Cal Ranch Stores and pick up some off white sticky gauze they wrap horse ankles with. It works great and conforms to any shape on the gun. He then takes a Sharpe black marker and makes soft and hard black lines on different parts of the gun that helps hide it even better in a snowy background.
We found a good place to hide and John started calling for coyotes. In about 15 to 20 minutes we saw a curious coyote come out from behind some brush. We figured he was about 150 yards and John brought his rifle up to bear at the coyote. He had a tripod mounted to the gun and was able to quickly put him in the crosshairs. Several seconds later, John had his first coyote. We figured he was the one we had seen earlier that morning on our way to hunt birds. He was a good sized animal. After to moving to a different part of the ranch we found some good concealment again and set up. John started calling again and after about forty minutes one came into range at a little over 150 yards. John lined him up and dropped him where he stood. As it was now getting late in the day we decided to head back for dinner.
On the last day of hunting we went to an entirely different part of the ranch that offered more great hunting. And like every drive across the ranch we saw lots of game birds and big game as well. It wasn’t long before we had a few birds in the bag. By noon, we all had a bird or two, but none of us had filled out with three birds. After lunch we headed back out so everyone could bring home nine birds. By three o’clock we had filled out and headed back to the lodge. A few people had to leave that late afternoon where a few of us were going to spend one more night at the ranch and head home the next morning.
Mike Taylor is going to be expanding the lodge to handle a few more hunters and expand the dining area as well. They have a great lounge/bar area with a large screen TV to relax after a long day of hunting. The food served there is excellent and you’ll never feel hungry at the ranch. They are considering one other expansion but a final decision hasn’t been made as yet. They are thinking of putting in a driven pheasant hunting area where they would have six or eight pegs. They are thinking they would band all the pen raised birds and operate this in a very remote area with the idea of keeping the pen raised birds away from the wild population. They are thinking of the possibility of having a couple of employees behind the hunters to take any birds that get by the hunters on a peg. We’ll have to wait and see if they can resolve all the questions and see if they start the operation in the near future. Even if they don’t do the driven hunt on the ranch, they offer you a unique experience that you’re not likely to ever forget. It’s a quality experience in every way. I hope to get back out there in summer to try out their sporting clays course. With Mike setting the targets it should be interesting.
The hunt list of 60 hunters fills up pretty quick for each year’s hunting on the ranch, so don’t wait too long to make a reservation. You’ll usually have to sign up for a hunt one to two years out if you’re lucky. And if your into fly fishing, contact John Way at the Ennis, MT fly fishing shop.
Twin Creek Ranch
2074 E. Bench RD
Winnett, Mt 59087