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Subscriber-Written Trip Report On Colorado Hunting

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Report ID: 9990 Weapon Used: Rifle How Hunt Was Conducted? Guided
Date of Hunt: November 25, 2014 to December 1, 2014
Place of Hunt: United States - Colorado
Hunt Area:

Outfitter (or safari company): Kessler Canyon. P.O. Box 169; DeBeque; CO; 81630; Tel. 970-283-1145; Fax: 970-283-1146; Web
Personal Guide (if any): Jim and Alec
Booking Agent (if any):
Trip Arrangements
(if self-guided):
License Required:

Major Game Animals Taken: Deer, Mule - Availability: Abundant - Trophy Size: Excellent
Deer, Mule - Availability: Abundant - Trophy Size: Fair
Game Sought But Not Taken:
Game Condition Comments: Very good

SERVICE RATINGS (excellent, good, fair or poor)
Quality of Outfit: Fair Guide/PH Ability: Excellent
Condition of Camp: Excellent Condition of Equipment: Excellent
Quality of Food: Good Trophy Care: N/A
Name of Airline: AA Airline Service: Good
Airline Comments:

Hunting Fees: Amount: $0
Trophy Fees: Amount: $0
Permits/Licenses: Amount: $0
Commercial Airfares: Amount: $0
Charter Airfares: Amount: $0
Other Costs: Amount: $0
Total: $0

Problems of Hunt: Please see the additional comments section.
Highlights of Hunt: Please see the additional comments section.
Equipment Recommendations:
Would You Recommend This Hunt to a Friend? no
Why? Please see the additional comments section.

Hunter Name: W.B. Rodgers
Contact Information: Tel. 314-566-0514 - 12371 County Road 391, Holts Summit, Missouri United States, 65043 E-mail:
Hunting Experience: Africa, Europe, New Zealand, US West/Midwest/South, Canada (BC/NFLD)
Physical Condition: Fair

IMPORTANT NOTES (actions taken if hunter unhappy with hunt)
Notified Outfitter? no Notified Personal Guide? no Notified Booking Agent? no
Seeking any kind of restitution or other settlement from agent, outfitter or guide? no
If Seeking Restitution, What is Sought?

I do not lightly offer a negative hunt report but, since there were no other reports on Kessler Canyon in The Hunting Report database, I felt that recording my impressions was worthwhile. Let me say at the beginning that I researched this hunt (thru the internet) in some detail. I was looking for a lodge-based free range hunt for mule deer that could be done during the week of US Thanksgiving 2014. In addition, since my family was accompanying me (and my wife is not a hunter), I was looking for a place with nice amenities, non-hunting activities, excellent dining, and significant creature comforts. I am sure that this would be classified as a luxury hunt, although I am loathe to use that term. I could find no reviews of the hunting experience at Kessler Canyon (except an article about the chef in Petersens Hunting a couple of years ago), but I did read the myriad internet reviews of the resort as a destination. All of these reviews were extremely positive and, for that reason also, I hesitate to discuss our experiences there. Anyone who reads this review should interpret my comments in light of the type of hunt that we sought.  Certainly, Kessler Canyon should not be compared to a wilderness pack hunt in the West; it is perhaps best compared to the experience on a high-end African or New Zealand hunt. With these caveats in mind, I must say that we were disappointed with our experience at Kessler Canyon,  not so much with the hunting (although there were issues with that)  but rather with the totality of the place. It is probably best to begin at the beginning. I contacted Kessler Canyon in the summer of 2013 looking for a Thanksgiving 2014 mule deer hunt for 3 hunters (my daughter, son, and myself). Arrangements were made, contracts signed, and deposits paid. In November of 2013, my daughter decided she did not want to hunt and I contacted Jim McKenzie (the ranch manager) who agreed to allow us to apply her deposit to our other expenses instead of forfeiting that money. He was confident that, with a full year's notice, he would be able to sell the hunt  and I believe he was. We flew into Grand Junction on Tuesday, November 25th, and were met at the airport by Jim and his young son. About an hour later we arrived at the ranch. The setting is beautiful,  around 30,000 acres, if memory serves. They participate in Colorado's Ranching for Wildlife program and thus are allowed to hunt outside the standard seasons,  hence our Thanksgiving week hunt. The lodge is quite nice and well-appointed. For most of the week, we were the only guests staying in the lodge. Things got off to a rough start that evening as we went out to sight in our rifles. We had shipped the guns via UPS and both my rifle and my son's had lost zero completely. While we were able to re-zero my rifle without too much difficulty, my son's scope would not hold zero in any meaningful fashion. We checked the rings, repeatedly allowed barrel cooling between shot strings, and used multiple shooters. Nonetheless, the best group we could get was about 4.5 at 150 yards. The rifle (and my son) normally holds ¾ MOA.  This was a new scope and it has since been returned, but that it is another story. As we were leaving the range, we noticed that a large number of deer had come down into the river bottom at the center of the valley. We went to look them over and found a couple of good bucks  one dark, high, heavy, and tall and the other lighter, wider, but not nearly so heavy. My son (age 15) was the first shooter and I asked him if he wanted to try for one of these. He said he did and a stalk was made. Once in shooting position, I asked him which buck he wanted. He preferred the heavy, tall, dark buck. Jim, who was with us at this time, tried to dissuade him. Shoot the wide one, he repeatedly said. My son who has hunted all over the world, hesitated. Finally, I said, Which one do you want? Under his breath he replied, I really like the darker one. He is bigger. Now, I am no expert on judging mule deer, but it was obvious to me that the dark buck was larger and, despite Jim's suggestion that he take the other deer, I said, "Shoot the one you want." Unfortunately, his scope still was not holding zero. His first two shots went high (range appx 250 yds) but, fortunately, the buck was preoccupied with an available doe and stayed in the river bottom. The third shot (on which my son held 18 low), broke both shoulders and dropped the old buck. I was somewhat perplexed as to why the ranch manager would have so strongly pushed a young hunter away from the deer he wanted  and toward a deer of lesser quality. I did not make much of it at that time but, as the week went on, I began to develop a theory. The next day I hunted (with a young guide, Alec). We had a good day afield but the rutting activity seemed to be slowing and we did not see any shooter bucks. Alec was a fine guide: friendly, competent, and affable. On Thursday morning, we went out again. Alec spotted a group of bucks high up on the side of one of the mountains. He believed that the largest buck in the group was a wide one with drop tines that he had been watching for some weeks. We glassed for a time and then began to stalk. The last time I saw the buck was at 780 yards (rangefinder confirmed). We used the topography of the area to close the distance until we found ourselves crouching on the low side of a rise. I could not see the deer but Alec, being above me, could. "He's trailing a doe. He's coming through just over there." When the deer crossed the rise at a trot, I fired and he fell. The range was less than 200 yards. When we walked up to the deer, it was obvious that he was not the buck that Alec had expected. While a nice deer (probably 160), he was by no means the large deer that Alec had said we were pursuing. I saw several other bucks over the next four days that were significantly better than this one and, while I am responsible for the final decision to shoot, I would have preferred for the guide to suggest that I hold fire since he could see the deer and I could not, and we still had 3 ½ days left to hunt. To Alec's credit, he acknowledged that this was not the deer  fairly wide, but quite thin, and without drop tines -- he was expecting when we began the stalk. Buyer's remorse is a strange emotion and, had the rest of the trip played out as expected, I doubt I would have filed this report. There were other issues  more concerning, but harder to convey. The staff at the lodge was polite but clearly the interpersonal relations within their group were strained. I was surprised to see some of them availing themselves of the contents of the bar at times. While the lodge décor was quite nice, the thermostat in our bedroom was malfunctioning and the room became so hot that sleeping was difficult. My wife has some trouble with her neck and requested a softer pillow  only to be told that no other pillows were available. I am no prude but I was taken aback by the staff's coarse language and humor,  particularly in front of my wife and daughter. Admittedly, these sound like minor complaints for a hunting report but, as I mentioned at the beginning, I chose Kessler Canyon for the promised experience and for the amenities that were, supposedly, on offer: so that my wife and daughter could pass their time in comfort while my son and I hunted. If one reads the Petersens Hunting article on Kessler Canyon from a couple of years back, much is made of the food at the ranch. There were meals that were exceptional  particularly later in the week (more on that in a bit), but I was surprised that most of the dishes were uneven. Food at times was undercooked, or overseasoned. I fully appreciate avoiding waste but, in general, such establishments do not serve leftovers. One of the staff members remarked that they were not refilling the larder because the season was nearly over. I found that comment strange since the manager told me they were open through New Years weekend  some five weeks hence. Other more random vignettes on the weeks activities. As we were driving in, Jim mentioned that they had seen some mountain lion predation in the area. I asked if it would be possible to purchase a tag,  just in case we saw one. I reiterated this request to Kerri, the lodge manager (and Jim's wife), and was assured that she would look into acquiring a tag. The next day I mentioned it to Alec, who thought it a reasonable idea, but I never heard any more about it. Kessler Canyon also offers elk hunts. These hunts take place on a high mesa that stretches for some 10 or more miles above the lodge. During elk season hunters stay in cabins up on the mesa. The ranch offers jeep tours (there is an associated charge) and I scheduled one such tour so that my family could go up to the top of the mesa. I had hoped that we would see some elk and that I could get a look at the cabins, in case my son and I wanted to return for an elk hunt at some later date. Alec took us out and we drove about ¾ up the side of the mesa. We got out to look around and Alec said, "Jim told me not to take you any higher." Now, it is possible that the road above was covered with snow (it had been in the mid-50s for several days down at the lodge) but I thought I had made it clear why we wanted to take the jeep tour  and I would have expected Jim to tell me in advance if he was not going to let Alec take us all the way to the top. We might have taken the tour anyway  or we might have chosen not to. Either way, we would have made the decision without unrealistic expectations. Beyond elk and mule deer hunts, the ranch offers trout fishing and upland hunting. We were able to catch (and release) a few small trout in the pond in front of the lodge. The largest fish are evidently in the ponds upstream (perhaps ½ mile walk from the lodge). One of the staff members suggested we take the fly rods and walk to the upper ponds but Jim, overhearing, forbade us from doing that. I am not sure why. I was told that there are 5+lb rainbows in those ponds. There are pheasant and chukar that can be hunted with the ranch's dogs and guides. I scheduled a round of sporting clays followed by an afternoon hunt for my son, daughter, and me on Saturday. We had seen a couple of other groups of bird hunters come and go during the time that we were there and, when we got out with the dogs, I asked the guide (not Alec) if they rotated the areas they hunted. No, he said, we hunt the same place every time. As you can imagine, there were not many birds that would hold for long, having been shot over twice in the previous three days. Skittish birds (and my poor shotgun skills) are a common part of pheasant hunting but one exchange during the wing-shooting afternoon crystalized my thoughts about our time at Kessler Canyon. As I mentioned, I am not particularly skilled with a shotgun nor were the birds overly abundant. Many that were present ran ahead of the dogs, and flushed wild. And so we walked and hunted. I was extremely surprised to have the guide ask  not once or twice, but three separate times  if we were ready to go back to the lodge. It was a beautiful afternoon and the sun still hung above the canyon rim. I insisted that we continue hunting  not because I care about killing pheasants but just to enjoy the time out in the evening with my family, watching the dogs look for sign. I have hunted many places and I can never remember a guide trying to cut short a hunt for reasons other than bad weather or darkness. After the hunt, I requested that our deer be shipped back to our taxidermist in Michigan (The Wildlife Gallery). The staff at Kessler Canyon claimed never to have had a similar request and strongly recommended the local taxidermist. When I persisted in my request (I have had great results with The Wildlife Gallery and send all of our trophies to them), I was finally told that the staff could not prepare the trophies for shipping (they could not boil the skulls and remove the neural tissue) and that they would need to engage the local taxidermist to prepare and ship. Eventually, I relented and sent the deer to the local shop for mounting. I am sure they will do a fine job but, having hunted all over North America and in Africa, Europe, and the South Pacific, I cannot remember ever having an outfitter who so opposed the use of a non-local taxidermist. Nor have I run across a North American outfitter who was so unfamiliar with the preparations necessary for transporting ungulates from CWD zones. I have tried to find a commonality behind the difficulties that we encountered at Kessler Canyon. Although I have no proof of the root cause of these issues, I have a theory. As I mentioned, my family and I were the only guests at the lodge for most of our time there. Indeed, my son and I were the last scheduled hunters of the season. However, on Friday night the owner and his son-in-law arrived for a late season hunt. Up to that point the food in the lodge had been uneven but (perhaps not surprisingly) improved demonstrably thereafter. No further leftovers appeared and the staff steered clear of the bar's contents. Despite the fact that we had been unable to take a tour to the top of the mesa, the new arrivals managed to hunt that area the next day. I cannot help but wonder if the excellent buck my son took was not, perhaps, being monitored and saved should the owner choose to harvest him. Likewise, I wonder if there was not some less-than-subtle impetus for my hunt to end as quickly as possible to make way for the other hunters who were arriving in short order. Once again, I have no proof of this theory but since so many of the issues we found seem interwoven, I cannot help but infer a subtle pattern. I fully realize that the inconveniences we experienced would have been inconsequential in a more rigorous hunting environment. However, that is the major reason that I chose to submit this negative report. The choice of hunt environment quite frequently drives the hunter's choice of outfitters and locale. If one of the other readers of The Hunting Report is seeking a ranch-based hunt with high-end amenities (and is willing to accommodate the incumbent cost), I would not recommend choosing Kessler Canyon at present. The undercurrent of discord among the lodge staff, the conduct of that staff toward the guests, the uneven nature of the dining, and the apparently distracted attention of the hunting guides makes for a hunt that does not live up to its promise, and is not worth the cost.

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