Hunting with Trophy Ridge Outfitters (TRO)
25 - 30, 2008
Copyright 2008, Christopher Long - use of pictures and
content by explicit permission only
After the great time we
had last year in Carlile Wyoming with Ralph and Lenora Dampman
of Trophy Ridge
Outfitters, we made reservations for the 2008 hunt in May:
Again, as with last year,
the goal of this trip
(besides having a great time) was to get in some long range (1000+ yard)
opportunities, and possibly even a shot over 1500 yards, in order to
qualify for the VHA 1500 yard certification. Last year, we were
hamstrung by very tall grass, making the long shots essentially
non-existent. Our plan for this year was to arrive in mid May, hoping to
get there before the grass got too tall, and hopefully have a bit cooler
weather. Well, both items in that plan were realized, but we neglected
to account for the "Mother Nature" factor.
This year, not only did
Chris from western Virginia join the hunt, but he was accompanied his dad Tom, and
Greg West of West Custom
Rifles. I had just purchased another beautiful Lowrider stock from
Greg, and was delighted to be able to meet him face to face.
The town of Carlile is
located in the north western range of the beautiful Black Hills, and is
the home to the unique Devil's Tower National Monument. Ralph
and Lenora at TRO are primarily big game outfitters, and have access to
hundreds of thousands of acres of private ranch land, chock full of deer, elk,
turkey, and other game. They have just started providing services for
guided prairie dog hunts, during their nominal off season, and the above
mentioned ranch lands are home to some prodigious dog towns.
The terrain is beautiful, with lots of hills and
Ponderosa pine trees.
I arrived in the early
afternoon, and Chris, Tom, and Greg arrived in the early evening, just
in time for dinner. As expected, Lenora's dinner offering was
excellent, and I ate too much. Again...
This time, we were bunked
in Cabin Two:
This comfortable cabin had
two bunk rooms, with three beds each. It was nice and warm, which turned
out to be a
We were watching the
weather closely, as it looked like the big storm system that followed me
all the way from Seattle was finally arriving. The predictions were for
nasty conditions on Monday, Memorial Day, as well as Tuesday, with
Wednesday iffy, and Thursday looking good. Unfortunately, this time the
forecasters were spot on.
The issue was that there
had been a lot of rain the past few days, and all the country land and
access roads were soaked. This turned out to be our biggest challenge
this trip. The field and road conditions were so bad that we were
severely restricted as to the locations we could access for shooting.
Ralph had some good towns that he had chosen for us, but the good
ones with long range shots were unreachable due to the standing water
and the mud. Ralph is extremely contentious about not tearing up the
ranch land that he leases, which we all appreciated. However, even with the
limited access, Ralph was able to offer us some great shooting.
We watched the weather
move in that evening. It gave a nice sunset, but our expectations were
not high. "Red at Night..." didn't hold true this trip.
The weather, as expected,
was cold (very low 40's) and raining. All the rain the previous few days
had left the dirt roads and ranch land in a mess, with mud everywhere.
Even with these limitations, Ralph was able to take us to a very
nice dog town. There were obviously lots of dogs, and ranges out to
about 400 yards were available.
Across the road to the
west there is a very large ranch that raises pure Spanish Mustangs, one
of the only places left in the country where you can see wild horses
running free, just like 150 years ago. It was great to see them running
back and forth, constantly. They never stopped running it seemed. You
can just see one in the picture below, above and behind the two cattle:
Another view of this town:
The wind was blowing about
15+ MPH, and a light rain started up just after we arrived. Note the
We did some short range
shooting with our ARs, and 22 rimfire rifles. I had some fun sniping at
dogs using my Sig Trailside 22LR target pistol. After a bit, the
rain and cold was getting to us, so we retreated to the cars for a
few minutes to see if it would subside. After a short while, without any
sign of the rain abating, we called it a hunt and packed it in, just in
time for the rain to start in earnest.
Upon arriving at TRO, we
met the other party that had just arrived from Georgia, making it in two
straight days. Amazingly, they were still able to form coherent sentences and
remain vertical, but I have no idea how they did that after that long a
drive. So, that is how Philip, and his two sons Brian and Scott came to be
part of the TRO saga of 2008.
The rain kept up all
evening, and we awoke to more of the same cold and wet conditions. After
a protracted breakfast, we decided to go back to the town from Day One
and do a walkabout with the 22s. On went the rain gear and every layer
of clothing that I had brought. I didn't expect that it would be
that cold and wet, and simply didn't pack clothes for those conditions.
It was worse than I usually see here in the Pacific Northwest during the winter.
Many times during the rest of the hunt, I was kicking myself for leaving
the nice polypropylene underclothes, winter coat, cap, and gloves hanging on
the hook at home.
It was so wet that we
parked on the road to avoid tearing up the ranch road. We walked about
in the town for a couple of hours, and the others had some luck with
their 22 rimfire rifles. I didn't bring my 22 rimfire rifle (another
"kick yourself" moment), so I was reduced to harassing the
dogs with fire
from the 22 target pistol again. We eventually packed it in and headed
back to TRO, before noon.
I took advantage of the
down time to go over to the Devil's Tower National Monument, and give it a
thorough inspection. I didn't have the time in 2007, so this was high on my
list of things to do this year.
Devil's Tower was our
nations first National Monument, established by Teddy
Roosevelt in 1906. From the visitors center, you can hike on a 1.3 mile
loop trail, circumnavigating the Tower. Here are some pictures
taken around the Tower:
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The morning of Day Three
was still cold and damp, but no rain was falling. The weather
forecasters called for clearing later in the day, with temperatures in
the mid to high 50's. Well, it didn't rain, but it remained overcast and
in the mid 40's all day.
Ralph was able set us up
in a good sized town, one that we had a chance of getting into even with
all the mud and standing water. There were a lot of dogs, and we had
ranges out to a bit over 500 yards.
We set up on the eastern
edge of the town, on the side of a slight knoll, mostly to keep out of
the wind. From left to right are Chris, Greg, and Tom. Chris was
shooting his AR, Tom had a 223 Remington, and Greg had his new 6X47
Lapua that he had just built before the trip. That rifle was a real tack
driver, as Greg demonstrated numerous times that day and the next.
Here is Greg with the
6X47L, and I am fishing for a dropped piece of brass in the background.
I was shooting the 6 Dasher which had a newly set-back and re-chambered
Broughton 5C, 8 twist barrel, finished at about 29". This barrel was the
one that allowed me to set two F-Open National records (300 & 800 yards)
in 2007. After the setback it shot just as well as it did when new .
Notice that both Greg's and my rifles are stocked in the same Green
Mountain Camo Rutland laminate. Give Greg a
email to find out more
about these excellent stocks, and custom rifles.
Here I am working the
Dasher. It wasn't raining, but the wind was cutting cold, and the rain
shell was all I had that would do a good job as a windbreaker.
Another picture of the
Dasher. The longest shot I made that day was about 510 yards. Lots of
targets, but the wind made that range quite challenging.
We packed up with barely
enough time to get back to the lodge for dinner. You definitely don't
want to miss dinner at the TRO. Later that evening we saw one of the
many wild turkeys inhabiting the area around TRO. You them hear gobbling many
times during the day.
Before turning in, we
checked the weather forecast again, and it was still calling for very
nice conditions for the next day. After about 3 days of cold, rainy
conditions, a warm day with sunshine would be quite welcome.
Day Four broke with a
beautiful ray of sunshine, broken clouds, and light winds. The
temperature at 0630 was nearly 53 degrees - a positive heat wave! We had
blue skies, near 80 degrees, and light wind by the time we got to the shooting location, which was a welcome
change from the past three days.
Again, Ralph had found us a
great location, right near the Keyhole reservoir. The best spot would
have given us at leat 1200 yard opportunities, but, it was unreachable
due to standing water. The normal access road to
a closer shooting location was literally underwater, so we had to go around
via a higher and dryer road. Once there, we could see lots of dogs, out to about 820
yards. The dog town is only partially visible from this location with a
large number of mounds hidden by the sage covered ridge seen below, just
above the cars:
Greg and Chris set up on
the uphill side of the cars, Greg with the 6X47L, and Chris with a 6BR.
Greg had a set of Big Eyes, which were excellent for spotting:
Another view down range to the ridgeline at
about 800 yards:
Greg getting a bead on a
As was mentioned earlier,
our first location was optimized for the longer shots, but not for
reaching a large part of the town shielded by the near ridgeline. Later
in the day, we packed up and moved down onto that ridge for some closer
shooting. We didn't want to tear up the very wet land, so a couple
of tables were lugged in for Greg and Tom, and Chris and I went with
shooting mats. From left to right you can see Tom, Greg, and Chris
(prone), and my AR-15 on the far right. We had a lot of fun at this
location. Ranges were out to about 500 yards, with lots of targets:
Toward the end of the day,
we watched a couple of large thunderstorms building off to the west, and
blowing our way. To keep from getting caught in the storm, we packed up,
then Chris and Greg went down range to get pictures of some of the dogs
that they had shot at about 800 yards . Here is Greg in front of a few
of their successes. Notice the size difference between the adult (left)
and the pups (right). We saw very few adults during our four days, and
most of the hits (probably 95%+) were on the much smaller pups. Quite
challenging even at 800 yards:
Here is Chris in the same
One that got away!
That evening, after
another great dinner, we got the whole group together for a picture.
From left to right are Tom, Scott, Philip, Brian, Chris, Chris (me), and
Greg. This was taken in the lodge area of the TRO facilities. Notice
that there is no furniture or other items. We arrived just as Ralph and
Lenora were starting a major upgrade of the lodge facilities, and they
had cleared the room in preparation. They are raising the roof to give
the common area a vaulted ceiling (more room for some of Ralph's
beautiful mounts), and adding a couple more bedrooms and a bath in the
new second story. This will be complete before the next hunting season
this fall. I am looking forward to seeing it next year.
Even with the not-so-good
weather, we all had a great time. It is hard not to with hosts like
Ralph and Lenora, and the beautiful country they live in. Chris and I
are already booked for July of next year. We decided that it is better
to deal with a bit of tall grass than take more risk of loosing the
weather lottery again. July weather there is usually very dry and hot.
If you want a great
experience, give Ralph and Lenora a call:
Next year I'll be back for
another go at the 1500+ shot !
Thanks to Chris for the additional
Copyright 2008, Christopher Long
- use of pictures and content by explicit permission only