Updated: Oct 12, 2021
By Michael G. Sabbeth
Previously published in The Vintager: A newsletter for the Edwardian Gunner
“Good company and good conversation are the very sinews of virtue.” Izaak Walton, The Compleat Angler, 1653 Of the many fine people I have met through our Vintager club, none are finer than Bob Nikkel and his elegant wife, Cyndee. Thus, it was with great enthusiasm that I accepted Bob’s offer to join him and his two grandsons, Mathew and Mackynzie, on a pheasant hunt at the Beaver Creek Ranch in Atwood, Kansas.
The hunt promised to be drenched in significance. It would be Mathew’s and Mackynzie’s first hunt; they would be shooting elegant vintage side-by-side shotguns and, most significantly, the grandsons would experience the hunt under the loving but no-nonsense guidance of their granddad.
The Beaver Creek Ranch is owned by Jeff and Alice Hill. They farm, raise cattle and hogs and guide hunting groups. Their hunting business began in 1999 when they realized their house could accommodate guests. “We took a chance,” Alice told me, “and we were successful.” Years of dedicated habitat improvement produces large natural pheasant and quail hatches.
Jeff enrolled some 1200 acres into a government authorized Controlled Shooting Area program, the only one in Rawlins County, which allows hunting to begin earlier and to run later than the normal season. The Beaver Creek season runs from September 1st to the end of March. Both wild and liberated birds are included in hunting packages.
We arrived at the Ranch early evening. We packed our gear into our respective rooms, cleaned up a bit and journeyed into the dining room to enjoy a sumptuous meal prepared by Alice boasting ranch-raised Angus beef and home-grown vegetables. Bob, a gourmet and raconteur, uncorked a lovely Cabernet that harmonized with the classical music on the radio and facilitated lively discussions about vintage guns and the Ranch’s history.
During dinner we learned that Jeff grew up in the 1950’s at the peak of the northwest Kansa pheasant population, which led to insights into the relationship between hunting and commerce. Out of state hunters populated the small towns during the season and were welcomed by civic and church groups that prepared hunters’ breakfasts. The mentoring and fellowship of his grandfather, W. H. Hill, and his uncle, Baird Hill, instilled in Jeff the ethos of Nature’s bounty and inspired Jeff and Alice to create their own hunting ranch.
We awoke early the next morning and trundled up to the kitchen for a lavish breakfast featuring sausage made from ranch-raised hogs. The air was chilled and a hoar frost glazed the grass and shrubbery like sugar icing.
Matthew, only ten years old, was given a 16 bore Army and Navy CSL from Birmingham. Mackynzie, nineteen years old and a recipient of an appointment to Annapolis, began the hunt with a Browning A5 16 bore and then used a Kimber SLE Valier II. Bob, who has a preternatural ability to find stunning shotguns, used his Stephen Grant sidelever SLE. I brought a beautifully restored Cogswell and Harrison 12 bore but began the hunt with a new Zoli Ambassador in 28 gauge over/under engraved by Incisioni Dassa.
We walked on uneven muddy ground amidst the tall grasses and the corn stubble. The day warmed up nicely, making it easier for the German shorthairs, Robert, Slim, Gus and Chief, to exuberantly navigate the terrain with tails wagging like metronomes.
The first pheasant of the day flushed like a missile. Matthew shouldered his gun and fired. Perfect shot. A smile flashed on his face that stirred grandpa’s soul. Bob exclaimed, “Great shot!”
And thus began, somewhat inauspiciously, passing the legacy of hunting and stewardship to Bob’s grandsons. Matthew shot three birds that first day; Mackynzie five, as I recall. I took only one shot with the Zoli but was successful. Using a Fiocchi Golden Pheasant cartridge, the bird dropped like an anchor. The limit is six roosters a day per hunter. During their three days at Beaver Creek, Bob and his grandsons got forty-two roosters!
“Nobody can do for children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of grandchildren”—paraphrasing a quote from Alex Haley, author of Roots
“This is my legacy to my grandchildren,” Bob said thoughtfully that evening. “Passing on the values of the hunt; the love of the outdoors, respect for God’s creatures and His work.” Hunting properly, ethically, responsibly, Bob added, helps build people of character and honor. Hunting can teach us ethics and that knowledge, in turn, can inspire us not only to hunt more ethically but to act more ethically in general.
Perhaps the most overarching issue facing the hunting sports is sustainability, which can be achieved only by passing to the next generation the legacy, the tradition, the ethos of hunting. The challenge is considerable in our iPad text messaging 550 TV channel world. Fewer people, I fear, value the solitude and the aesthetics of Nature and fewer seem willing to make the effort to experience them.
The person that values Facebook and TV screens over soul-churning sunsets, the thrill of the hunt and the majesty of somewhat wild places will not understand the messages and values of Bob and Jeff. Taking his grandsons to Beaver Creek Ranch, Bob invested in instilling the notion, indeed, the obligation, that they must be stewards of our resources and that must understand what they do or fail to do has consequences beyond themselves. This is how young men and women develop a sense of self efficacy, self reliance and personal honor.
Mackynzie shared his thoughts about his first hunt, telling me poignantly, “It’s all memorable. I took part in a tradition of beautiful birds with beautiful guns and being with my grandfather. That’s special. I will never forget these days.”
To spend a few days with granpa Bob at Alice and Jeff’s ranch, a venue inspired, in part, by the values and memories of Jeff’s grandfather, well, it just doesn’t get any better for grandsons and granddaughters. As Ira Gershwin’s classic song, I Got Rhythm, asks, “Who could ask for anything more?”
For more Information on Beaver Creek Ranch, see:
Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer in Denver, Colorado. He lectures on ethics and rhetoric to law associations and civic and business groups. He is the author of the newly published book, The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. The book is a guide for teaching ethics and moral reasoning to young children. Please visit his website at www.kidsethicsbook.com for free chapter downloads and to buy the book in paperback or as an EBook.