A weekend at Wild River Ranch
How it all started
I consider myself to be very experienced in the way of the gun however I have always admitted to being a total “noob” hunter. Hunting is something I wanted to get into for years but never really had the motivators, such as being around experienced hunters. With the age of my sons currently being 3 years (this march) and 6 months I thought I need to get on this, and become proficient so I can teach the boys when they are old enough.
After many failed attempts in the great (sarcasm) hunting lands we call Southern California I decided to contact a well respected forum member who is experienced where I lack, enter Chris Lucci of Wild River Ranch (AKA HTR on 68Forums.comx). I shot him an email, probably somewhat different than he’s used to. I said I wanted to book a hunt however what I was after more than anything was to learn as much as I could about the animal, its habits and what to do with the animal after the shot. His response was quite a bit more than I had expected. He sounded nearly as excited as I did. I explained that I am after the meat and don’t really care about trophy animals so he recommended the spike/doe hunt. After reading what the spike/doe hunt entailed on his website it sounded like a perfect fit. Originally it was only going to be myself but my buddy I work with who is in the same boat as I am (we took the HSC together) asked if he could join us so I asked Chris and we made it a double book for the same thing. Chris guided us through what we needed to purchase as far as out of state hunting licenses go and then My buddy (Jonathan) and I booked our flights and did the hard part, waited the 5 months until the date that we determined to be best with our work schedule.
Jonathan and I booked a couple tickets from LAX to San Antonio on United, round trip. We spent weeks researching how to transport firearms because we expected the process to be a nightmare. The morning of our flight we showed up early to deal with what we intended to be a nightmare with the rifles. The UA ticketing agent was very professional and easy to deal with. She checked us in, told us the flight was pretty empty and moved our seats so we had empty seats next to each of us. TSA walked out looked at our rifle cases to ensure we had the pink slip stating unloaded firearm inside our cases, swabbed them for explosives and said all done. Then the UA agent checked our pelican cases in for us and handed us our claim tickets. When we got to the plane we sure were glad to find out they gave us those empty seats as buffers because the plane was a RJ (regional jet) and of course not knowing what to expect we packed way too much. We both easily slid our backpacks under the seats in front of us but that wouldn’t have worked if we had to share that space with another passenger.
Upon landing in San Antonio we walked to baggage claim where we picked up our rental car and rifles (after our claim tickets were inspected to ensure the rifles did indeed belong to us) and were on our way to the ranch. Using the GPS on my IPhone and the address that Chris’s assistant (Cassandra) provided the drive was quite easy and took about an hour and 45 minutes. We were greeted by Chris and one of his guides Galen and were told to pick a bunk and make ourselves at home. The ranch house was very comfortable and lacked nothing. We weren’t in the door 10 minutes when Chris stated that there was plenty of sunlight left so let’s all go hit a stand. That was a little shocking to both of us but we were all for it.
I headed out to a stand with Chris while Jonathan headed out with Galen. Chris and I saw 11 deer that evening alone, which was about 8 more than I had seen in the wild in my entire life I think (Remember I grew up in Southern California). I started eyeing the does and noting that there weren’t any spikes. Chris was explaining how the ranch worked and how he maintains everything and uses animal management to improve the genetics of the animals on his ranch. Shortly after that we saw a buck with a narrow 7 point rack and he said you can shoot that one if you want to help trim away the poor genetics or you can wait since it was the first night on the ranch. I thought about it for a bit and decided I was going to wait since it was our first night there. Jonathan had a similar story when we met back up at the ranch.
Cassandra had showed up while we were gone and started prepping for dinner. Let us just say I was very surprised to walk in and see these sitting on the table.
MMMM Ribeyes! Dinner was great. After dinner we sat around on the porch and talked about the 6.8 until about midnight. I believe that is where the infection that is the 6.8 started to nibble at Jonathan. He was lugging around his 30-06 boomstick while we all had nice compact rifles chambered in 6.8. Also I am sure it didn’t help that Chris was flaunting his suppressed SBR with NV in front of two Californians who could never dream of owning a SBR or a “can” on their rifles as our laws are too restrictive. We shot a little conversation that night as well as some suppressed loads (both subs and supersonic) at steal right off the ranch porch which overlooks Chris’s long distance range.
The lack of recoil made that infection bite down a little more on Jonathan.
The next morning started at about 0530 with some excellently and much preferred strong coffee. Chris did ask us the night before if we liked strong coffee and our reply of I like to chew my coffee was a joke that obviously went over Chris’s head because he just kept adding some grounds to our cups. Otherwise it was excellent and hit the spot. Off to our stands with our respected guides and teachers (btw both of them took the time to teach us so much over the weekend). It was chilly but not bad until the wind hit, Chris and I had it in our faces so in turn down our necks. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been because I was layered about 5 deep in my hunting clothes. After a little while of absolutely nothing the mood changed and it looked a preplanned party was starting. Three bucks rolled in, followed shortly by a couple does and the numbers just kept increasing.
One of the young bucks was a really nice 10 point that was going to be a trophy for someone in a couple years. Out of those first three bucks we found a good animal to trim from the heard for genetic purposes, Chris told me to shoot that one. I tossed on my Peltor electronic ear pros and began to sight in on the animal. I had a good shot but I kept having it race through my head I was about to make Chris deaf, so I looked over to tell him I was going to take the shot and ensure he had some form of ear pro in place when the deer got spooked and they all bolted. I remember sitting there for about 20 minutes or so thinking how I had missed my opportunity on my first deer and while substandard it was still an 8 point which to this novice was HUGE! That would have been just to cool. Well guess who showed back up, he was about 170 yards out and I was prepared to take that shot with no problems. I am zeroed at 200 and know my holds well on my rifle however I didn’t need to shoot that distance because that buck just kept walking towards us. He finally settled at about 70 yards when I took the infamous Lucci neck shot. That animal only moved in one direction, straight down. DRT (dead right there)! One of the bucks didn’t bolt like all the others, it just walked around confused and kept looking at the one I shot as if to say, hey get up and stop screwing around.
After the kill
After we recovered my animal we took it back to the ranch house to skin and clean. Of course I had to get a shot of the neck shot entry and exit wound. I was using Barnes 95gr TTSX in SSA brass with 30.5 grains of AA2200 and CCI 400 primers. Here is the entrance wound followed by the exit wound.
He wasn’t huge, he wasn’t genetically amazing but he was my first deer and my 6.8’s first kill. Chris said he weighed in at 112 pounds.
Chris started showing me how to process the animal to include skinning and gutting. Once the hind legs were off Galen carved one up while showing me how, so I went to work the second one under the watchful eye of Galen. Also once the skin was off we inspected the neck shot, it severed the spine and left a ¾” hole all the way through in which we could see daylight. Definitely a devastating shot. Once the processing was done we went in for a hearty pancake, eggs, sausage and fruit breakfast thanks to Cassandra and of course after breakfast it was time for some trigger time. Once again we were shooting off the porch down Chris’s long range course. Galen and Chris broke out there 6.8 Remington bolt guns and that infection sunk its teeth into Jonathan just a little further.
He was floored by the accuracy and near total lack of recoil from the round, also after seeing the damage done by my rifle he was pretty much convinced by that point. I believe it was about an hour later when he looked at me and said you need to build me a 6.8. Chris and I both just laughed.
After some fun on the range Chris took Jonathan and I out to see the entire ranch and lay out some bait for a possible opportunity to trim the hog population. It really is a very impressive piece of property. That evening Jonathan headed back out with Galen as he had yet to get a deer and while he did that Chris and I headed over to watch an area that we found sign of rooting earlier that day. That was literally a sit down, toss the feet up in the stand and shoot the breeze opportunity with Chris while we waited. A couple more bucks showed up and a few doe (imagine that? I am starting to see a trend here, tons of deer on this property) but still no piggies. Sun was nearly down and we had not heard a shot so I figured nothing on Jonathans end, I was wrong, he got a late evening buck that Galen and Chris processed fast. After another great dinner (Tuna steaks) prepared by Cassandra we headed out for a little night patrol for pigs. I think I did something wrong because I found myself behind a suppressed 10/22 with night vision while Jonathan had Chris’s 6.8. We came up empty on our patrol but later while sitting on the porch talking; we spotted some pigs at the end of the long range course. However there was a problem, the wind was now at our backs. We gave it a try anyhow, but this time I wasn’t going in armed with a 22. I carried my 6.8; needless to say with the wind at our back we didn’t get close enough without them fleeing into the bushes. So we called it a night.
The last day
The last morning was great food as usual and then we spent time shooting the rifles on the long range course until was time to leave. Chris broke out an addicting little 22 rifle that was just simply to fun to shoot.
Our drive back to the airport and return home went uneventful; we had already started planning our return trip.
by: Brett Cifaldi