Dateline: 11/10/09 – Back when I was 12 years old, my mother and daddy took my cousin, Newt, and me on a two-week driving tour through the West that included a visit to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore on the eastern edge of the famous Black Hills, so named because of the dark Ponderosa pines populating the hills. After visiting Mount Rushmore, we continued our drive westward through the Black Hills, where I saw more deer, mostly whitetails, than I ever knew existed. I never forgot that trip and all those deer and always harbored the hope of returning there someday to hunt. The opportunity to do just that came along when a young man named Jadee Kroeger approached me at the SHOT show in Las Vegas last year. Jadee is just starting out as an outfitter, and from his home base in Casper, Wyoming, he has lots of hunting options. When he mentioned ones of those options being whitetails in the Black Hills, I quickly began planning a hunt with Jadee.
That trip became a reality on October 30, when cameraman Lance Tangen and I began our long drive up from Denver to Hulett, Wyoming … on the tail-end of a severe blizzard. With nearly all the northbound interstates closed, we had to travel east and try to make our way north on the backroads. Eleven hours later, after skating off the road twice on black ice in speculator fashion, Lance and I finally met up with Jadee just outside Hulett. He escorted us the final few miles to the beautiful Nuckolls Ranch owned by J.W. and Thea Nuckolls, who would be our hosts for the next several days. Greeting done, Thea treated us to a great home-cooked meal. Then, we sorted our gear and made plans for the coming days before hitting the sack.
Early the next morning, we toured the Nuckolls Ranch, which lay virtually in the shadow of the famous Devil’s Tower National Monument, a remarkable monolith rising up vertically hundreds of feet to dominate the landscape. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever hunted whitetails. The mixture of pine-covered hills, natural openings, crop fields and spectacular rock bluffs was breathtaking. After sightseeing a couple of hours and scouting several likely hunting spots for the November 1 opening day of deer season, we headed north to the wide open plains and prairies to hunt one of my favorite animals– the pronghorn antelope.
I soon saw that the antelope had figured out that it was best to keep lots of distance between them and people. They were wary and wild, having been hunted earlier in the season. Plus, the topography consisted on gently rolling hills and broad valleys, making stalking the keen-sighted critters very difficult. After several stalks that either ended in fleeting white rumps or thumbs down on bucks too small, thoughts of a quick antelope hunt passed from my mind. However, on that first antelope outing, I did see one particular standout buck, tall and heavy with good prongs. When I returned after I got my deer, I determined to go after that buck.
Deer season opened with Lance, Jadee and me sitting on a high hill watching two draws running up from the alfalfa fields below into the wooded hills. By 9 a.m., we had seen several does, fawns and young bucks but nothing big. I broke out my rattling horns (I know they are really antlers). My purpose was not so much to rattle a buck “in” and as much to rattle one “out.” You see, I have shot many more bucks using rattling horns that have just “exposed” themselves than have come charging in. This is especially true when I have elevation and can look down “into” a lot of whitetail country … and when hunting the pre-rut, the time of this hunt.
A minute after the short rattling sequence, a buck just appeared about 225 yards away, looking uphill straight at us for the “fight” he was trying to locate. His thick, blocky body told me immediately he was a mature buck. My Leupold HD binoculars told me he sported a good 10-point rack. Jadee recognized him as a buck he had seen a couple of weeks earlier on a scouting trip. He figured he was the biggest buck he had seen on the ranch. I decided to take him. While Lance moved the camera to get into position for better video, the buck decided he couldn’t reconcile what he was seeing with the expected “fight” and figured he’d be better off with more distance and cover between him and whatever was going on up that hill. He left just before the last few ounces of pressure broke the trigger and loosed the 140-grain Accubond from my .270 WSM.
We caught nothing more than occasional glimpses of the buck as he worked his way up the hill. After waiting about five minutes, I rattled again, hoping to tease him back out for a shot. A minute later, a second big buck appeared in the meadow below, looking for the source of the ruckus. He was a mature 8-pointer, good but not what we were looking for. He was obviously excited by the prospects of a fight, and perhaps a nearby hot doe. He started posturing and quickly moved over to the edge of the timber, where he wet his hocks and began scent-marking and pawing. After a few minutes of this, he fixed his stare on the hill where the big 10-pointer I wanted had gone. Hackles up and bowed in the back, he began that stiff-legged walk of a posturing bucks, straight toward the place we had last seen my buck. I told Lance to get ready. Something was about to happen. Thirty seconds later, Jadee said he could see a buck moving down the hill toward the aggressive 8-pointer. My Leupold spotting scope told me it was the big 10-pointer. I traded the spotting scope for the BogPod shooting sticks … and waited.
What happened next was wild and exciting … and a classic example of how rattling can help put a buck in your sights that had no intentions of actually coming “in” to the source of the bogus fight. You’ll have to see how it all played out on The Bucks of Tecomate. Yes, I did get the buck, a 6½-year-old 10-pointer scoring 145, a darn good buck for the Black Hills.
Buck down, it was back to the open plains and prairies for a rematch with the antelope. For the better part of two days, the antelope won. They were wild as “March hares.” We did manage to make several successful stalks on herds that didn’t have what I wanted. On The Bucks of Tecomate, we go after MATURE animals that are BIG (trophies) for the AREA. After seeing the big antelope on the first day, I just wasn’t willing to settle for anything less. We kept going back to the area we had seen him. Two or three times, we found the herd he was in but they were always either in a place in which we couldn’t stalk them or running like a wild Banshee. Finally, Jadee and I came up with a plan to use their wildness against them – an antelope drive! Very slowly, we moved them into a position that we thought would allow us to predict their next move. Then, I hot-footed it about a mile to get out in front of them. At the agrees upon time, Jadee began his slow “drive”. An hour later, we had our antelope … not just any antelope but the very one we set our sights on the first day! You’re not going to believe this hunt! You’ll see antelope from a perspective you’ve likely never seen – running full out straight at you!
With both the whitetail and pronghorn down, we wrapped up out TV video work and savored our success. This hunt was significant in many ways. One, we had a great The Bucks of Tecomate TV show in the can from a beautiful place. Two, the hunt was a good kick off for Jadee’s new venture, Kroeger Country Outfitters. Three, this marked the fulfillment of a dream that was born on a vacation with my mother and daddy over 40 years earlier. And finally, the deer and antelope I shot were the first ever taken with the new Sako A7 “Tecomate” rifle, a gun I had been working on for well over a year with Chip Klass, rifle manager for Beretta/Sako, and the gun experts at the Sako factory in Finland. The project had begun during a hunt at El Cazador Ranch in December of 2007, when Beretta’s head guy in the U.S, Christopher Merritt, and I began talking about what the “ideal” whitetail rifle would look like. I ran down a quick list of things I would want to see in such a rifle. After batting about ideas over the next few days, Christopher suggested that I get with Chip to plan a visit to the Sako factory in Finland to further develop the concept of the “ideal whitetail rifle.” The following October, after much continued discussions about the rifle, Chip and I, joined by Tecomate partner Gary Schwarz and our wives, boarded a jet bound for Finland. There, we toured the factory (amazing place and people), worked on the specifications for the new Sako/Tecomate rifle and hunted moose and whitetails. Yes, whitetails! When we left for home, the concept and specs for the new Sako A7 Tecomate were in place. All that remained was to build it!
A year later almost to the date and 3 days before I headed to Wyoming for my hunt with Jadee, I received the first prototype of the rifle, which I immediately topped with a Leupold VX-3L 4.5-14x50 scope and sighted in using Winchester Supreme 140-grain Accubonds. Though the prototype had been assembled about two months earlier, Sako and Beretta wouldn’t release it to me for use in the field until it had passed all their testing and inspection requirements. The wait was worth it. This rifle is SOMETHING! I simply cannot imagine a better whitetail rifle … or a better rifle for just about anything in North America for that matter. With a fluted, free-floated barrel, top of the line synthetic stock (painted dark green with black spiderweb), aluminum integral bedding block, Pachmayr Decellerator recoil pad, cheek piece, sling studs, to name but a few features, this rifle, which is built on the strong, accurate Sako A7 action and chambered for the sizzling .270 Win. Short Mag, was designed from the ground up to be the best in the market! I could bore you with more of the technical specs, but suffice to say – it is one slick, well-balanced, flat-shooting, dependable, accurate and all-round good looking rifle! As Jadee says, “It’s a mean, green shooting (he actually said killing) machine!”
The Tecomate A7 Sako is scheduled to be available sometimes before the 2010 hunting season at your local Beretta/Sako dealer.
For information on hunting Wyoming with Jadee Kroeger, contact him at Kroeger Country Outfitters, 13251 Bessemer Bend Rd., Casper, WY 82604. (307) 277-1118. Jadee is a delight to work with and has a true passion for hunting.