I had the honor of photographing a “wounded warrior” for the November 2016 cover of Oklahoma Living Magazine. It is quite humbling to work with someone like Shane Ayers, who has seen battle up close and personal in places like Fallujah, Iraq and the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. Shane is now a quadriplegic but does not let his handicap slow him down. I ended up photographing him bow hunting in northeast Oklahoma. My friend Vance Felder hosted Shane on a hunt near Shamrock, Oklahoma.
“Slow down and let those dogs work and you will find more birds.”
These barely audible words of wisdom drift across the South Dakota switchgrass prairie like an early morning mist.
“Those dogs know what they are doing. Let them use their noses to find birds, and you won’t have to work quite so hard.”
We had paused to catch our breath, water the dogs, and let the burn in our thighs subside when our newfound hunting partner, 82-year old Norm Lippert, shared this tidbit of knowledge from his 70+ years of chasing one of America’s favorite prey. The silence of our heavy breathing and the fast panting of our Brittany spaniels hung in the air as we pondered Norm’s sage advice.
After catching his breath, Vance Fielder, our unofficial leader, replied “yea, that is probably a good idea.”
When Norm Lippert – whom we had affectionately nicknamed “Yoda” – shared pheasant hunting advice, we had learned to listen.
Our trip to hunt wild ringnecks on the vast pothole prairie region of South Dakota started a year earlier, when Vance Fielder and his hunting partner Eric Orsburn hatched the idea while guiding penned pheasant hunts in northeast Oklahoma. “I spent 7 years guiding penned pheasant hunts in Oklahoma” explains Orsburn, “and I really wanted to hunt wild birds.” Although both are experienced waterfowl and large game hunters, Orsburn had only hunted pheasants in their native habitat and Fielder had only hunted pheasants in western Oklahoma. Lured by fireside stories of upland bird hunting on the vast plains of the Dakota’s, Fielder and Orsburn began searching the internet for the best wild pheasant hunting spots. After extensive internet research and discussions with fellow hunters, they settled on the area around Aberdeen, South Dakota. The pair decided to hunt public land rather than pay for private access, as they felt this gave them a more genuine hunting experience – and saved a lot of money.
Joining the group was Cory Stokes, a helicopter EMT, dog trainer and hunting guide from Fort Scott, Kansas. Stokes brought five dogs of his own, including his favorite dog “Annie”, a 4 year old Brittany, and some younger dogs in training. Fielder brought his black lab “Ruger” and a pup of Annie’s he named “Lady”.
I was an invited after another person dropped out the group. I had hunted pheasants once in Nebraska fifteen years prior, but most of my hunting had been from a duck blind.
As a long time waterfowl hunter I am used to waking up well before the sun announces its arrival with an indigo-pink sky, loading the dogs with just the dim light from my headlamp, donning ice-cold waders and heavy coats, then dragging loads of gear along frozen trails like a Himalayan pack mule. Opening day of South Dakota pheasant hunting is a bit different. Shooting time doesn’t begin until noon, so instead of dragging out of our warm sleeping bags into the icy pre-dawn darkness, we are able to cook a leisurely breakfast of Spam and eggs over the campfire, drink scalding coffee made with a tiny Jetboil stove, feed the hungry dogs and break camp mid-morning. We drive to our chosen spot and arrive early, hopefully before other hunters.
Never having hunted wild birds in the Dakota’s, Fielder, Orsburn and Stokes are unsure of the best location to begin. We had scouted a few locations the day before and picked the most likely looking field based on Fielder and Orbsurn’s previous experience. Our group of four hunters and four dogs fanned out across a rolling 160 acre field of waist-high switchgrass, crashing through the matted undergrowth as we attempted to drive birds from their hiding places. After working hard for an hour we found no birds.
Our next target was a brush-filled tree line along a bean field. In Oklahoma, a spot like this would be prime cover for coveys of bobwhite quail. Again, no luck in flushing pheasants. Finally towards the end of the day we flushed some birds from a heavy cattail slew. A hard afternoon of opening day hunting scored us a measly three birds for four people. This was looking much more difficult than we expected.
Towards the end of the day I tire, unable to keep up with the brutal pace of my younger hunting partners. As I sit on the tailgate during the last field push for the day, a giant flock of blackbirds chirp as they feed on a nearby uncut milo field, launching into the air and flitting around like a giant headless black ghost. I watch as wary ringneck roosters dart across the dusty gravel road as the sun sinks low in the sky, moving from their feeding grounds in the tall corn into the thick protective cover of switchtail grass and cattail marshes.
When Fielder, Stokes and Osburn return empty-handed, I mention the birds moving at dusk across the road. “Maybe we need to find a place to hunt at sunset where we can intercept the birds as they move out of the corn” says Fielder.
That evening we dined on campfire-cooked pheasants and talked about the day’s hunt. As we discussed the challenges of the day and made plans for tomorrow, eighty-two year old retired school teacher Norm Lippert appeared out of the darkness with one of his dogs in tow.
“How was hunting today?” asks Lippert.
“Hard work” replies Fielder. “Grab a chair and join us” he suggests.
“Oh, I am OK. I was out walking my dogs and thought I would stop by. I am camped just down the way there” says Lippert, pointing to an adjacent camp site. He stays for a few minutes, telling us how his day went – much better than ours, even though he was hunting solo. Little did we know that we had just met – however briefly – the “Yoda” of pheasant hunting.
The next day was more of the same for our crew – a lot of walking with mediocre results. We walked nearly ten miles through thick cover and only shot one bird. After some mid-afternoon scouting, we found what looked like a prime hunting spot – a nice corn field next to public CRP bottom with plenty of cattails. As dusk approached we worked our way through the field and started flushing birds. In a half hour before sunset we down three birds in quick succession, and saw many more that flushed before we were in shotgun range. Finally, a bit of success. Maybe we were starting to learn how to hunt wild pheasants.
That evening Lippert stopped by the campfire and lingered a bit longer, quietly sharing – when prodded – stories of hunts from years past. It was easy to tell that his dogs were a central part of his story and he obviously spent a lot of time working his dogs. “I go to breakfast most mornings and order the largest item on the menu” he says. “I eat half of it and share the other half with my dogs.”
After char-broiled pheasant prepared over the campfire by Orsburn, our newly-appointed evening chef, Fielder asks Lippert “why don’t you hunt with us tomorrow?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to impose. And I am not sure I could keep up with you youngsters.”
“Man, we would LOVE to have you hunt with us. You could teach us a thing or two” says Fielder. Everyone else in our group agrees and after much cajoling, Lippert finally relents and agrees to spend the next day hunting with us.
That evening Lippert came over after sunset to discuss our strategy for the day’s hunt. Fielder and Lippert huddle over hunting maps of South Dakota. Lippert had scouted the area extensively a few days prior and made detailed notes on his maps. “Pheasants overnight in the CRP grass and cattail slews, then move to the corn fields in the morning” explained Lippert. “Since we can’t hunt until noon, we have to either catch them in the corn field or catch them as they move out of the corn fields late in the evening. Sometimes you can find birds lounging in the afternoon in deep cover such as cattail slews but the best hunting will be right before sunset.”
Because of the late weather patterns, much of the corn around Aberdeen had not been cut, so were off-limits to public hunting. The birds were able to hide in the corn away from hunters. There were a few patches of uncut corn that were available to public hunting and we decided to work those patches, often finding birds. The secret to hunting corn is having enough people to walk the corn and push the birds out so that blockers at the end can get a shot when the birds flush. The “pushers” seldom got a shot at the birds since the corn towers well above head height.
Fielder shares with Lippert where we had seen birds the two days prior. Together they develop a plan to hunt cattail slews in the afternoon and hit prime CRP land next to corn fields late in the evening. This would allow us to target the lounging areas during the low-probability daytime hours, and focus on the prime hunting areas near corn fields in the evening as the birds move from their feeding ground in the corn to their overnight roosting areas in the CRP fields.
Hunting with “Yoda”
The next day we leave camp early and head for a stand of cattails near a farmhouse. One side of the road near the farmhouse is a “No Hunting” zone so we decide to hunt the slew on the south side of the road. It is a small area so Fielder, Stokes and Orsburn – the young guys – start on the east side of the field. Lippert and I walk down the road and cut into the slew about 150 yards to the west. Once everyone is ready we begin a pincer movement, squeezing the slew between us.
Within minutes, the shotguns are booming and the feathers are flying. Orsburn quickly downs two birds – a double. Fielder knocks down a bird, while Stokes brings down a fourth bird. The cattails are thick as we wade calf-deep in the black gooey rotting vegetation underneath. Ruger, Fielder’s black lab, is working hard to find all the birds. Despite our best efforts, we are only able to retrieve three of the four birds.
“A double! Man, that is what I envisioned when I decided to come to South Dakota to hunt pheasants” exclaims an excited Orsburn. “Holy cow, I am excited now!”
After our success in the cattails, we gather at the tailgate of the truck and are soon joined by a strange but excited black lab. Soon his owner, a local farmer, joins us around the tailgate to retrieve his stray pup. As we talk, he tells us he doesn’t believe in charging hunters, since he and his father have been hunters for many years. Instead, he puts much of his land into he CRP program. That way he can get income from the land and still allow hunters access.
After a bit of talk we ask if he would mind us hunting the cattail slew on the north side of the road, which is posted with “no hunting” signs.
“I don’t mind as long as you are careful and don’t shoot back towards my house.”
This was a much bigger slew, about 15 acres total with corn fields to the south and CRP land to the north. “I doubt we can walk the center of that slew” says Lippert. “It will be too deep. Let’s work the edges instead. Three people on one side and two on the other.”
Following Lippert’s directions, we move into this marshy bottomland. Soon I am slogging through a dense tangle of downed cattails that reach well over my head, my breath coming in short gasps and stinging sweat dripping into my eyes as I try to keep up with my much younger hunting partners. A puff of white cattail seeds explode ahead of me as Orsburn plunges through the thick growth, high-stepping over the tangled web of fallen stems, his Benelli shotgun held high over his head ready for any flushing birds.
We pause to catch our breath. The pace through the cattails has been brisk.
Seeing a bird in this dense undergrowth is difficult, and actually shooting one next to impossible – that is the job of our more fortunate hunting partners walking the edge of the marsh. Our job is to make noise and scare the birds from their hiding places in the swamp. The dogs help, but they are also having a difficult time busting through the thick growth. Ruger, a sturdy black lab, is able to bust through the undergrowth better than the much smaller Brittany’s with us, but even he is quickly worn out from the hard work.
Within minutes we start seeing birds. “HEN”. Shotguns lower. “ROOSTER.” Bam, bam, bam. Hen’s are let go, but roosters are fair game.
The dogs now have the difficult job of retrieving downed birds in the thick tangled cover. Fielder’s young black lab “Ruger” is adept and charging through the undergrowth and using his nose to track down wounded birds. We quickly drop a half-dozen birds but are only able to retrieve four of them – the others lost to heavy undergrowth that even a determined labrador retriever cannot penetrate.
“We need someone to circle around and get some blockers in front of the birds” shouts Lippert. “We are pushing them out of the slew but they will just run into the CRP grass if we can’t block them.” We pause our push and allow two hunters on the edge of the slew to circle around and get in front of our skirmish line. Once in place, Lippert instructs us to once again move forward, driving more birds to the waiting hunters. “ROOSTER!” Boom. “HEN!” Shotguns lower. “ROOSTER!” Boom, boom.
NOW we were seeing birds, and plenty of them.
At the end of the slew we stop to take a break and water the dogs. Stokes reaches behind is back and fishes a shiny metal water dish out of his hunting vest and pours fresh water from his bottle for his thirsty dogs. Norm however uses his hands to wallow out a hole in the short grass, then places an empty plastic Walmart bag in the hole. We watch with surprise as he pours water from his bottle into the plastic bag and his dogs lap it up. “No need to carry a water dish. A plastic bag works fine, takes up less space, and weighs a lot less than a dish.”
Yoda had spoken again. Lesson learned. Next day everyone carries plastic bags rather than water dishes.
Once the dogs are watered, Lippert again provides a bit of hunting advice gained through his years of chasing ringnecks. “See where that switchgrass changes to brome there on that rise? Birds will often hang out in that transition area.” As he points to the area, a falcon lazily drifts over the transition area. “Watch that falcon hunt” says Lippert. Sure enough, the falcon cruises up and down the transition area, back and forth, right where the switchgrass turns into brome, looking for a wayward pheasant. We sit mesmerized for ten minutes as the falcon works the area Lippert had just pointed out to us. Eventually the falcon moves on, still looking for his afternoon lunch.
“We can hunt that area but I doubt we will see a bird” says Lippert. “That falcon already hunted the area and he is a better hunter than any of us. But let’s push on through that area and then up onto that rise with the short bushes. There might be some birds in there”.
Once again we form a skirmish line – three hunters with dogs in the middle, while two hunters on the ends work ahead slightly to create a U shape. We are now in the rolling plains of South Dakota where visibility goes on for miles. Our line stretches out to over 150’, like a giant combine swathing across the open prairie, orange hats bobbing above the tall switchgrass signaling the location of my hunting partners. As with the falcon, we see no birds in the transition area. We continue along the rise of short bushes, the dogs working back and forth in front of our line of hunters. All of a sudden Lippert shouts “POINT!”
Our heads swivel to where Lippert’s dog Rye is frozen on point, one front leg in the air and her tail jutting back like a fishing pole lodged into a holder. Lippert shouts intensely “move in on the edges. Hurry. That bird will run!” In the next moment, Stokes shouts “POINT” as his spaniel Annie locks up to the left of Rye and slightly ahead.
“That bird is moving” shouts Lippert. “Move, MOVE!” he hollers in his best coaching voice. The former physical education teacher is now excitedly barking directions in a voice that commands attention from both high school students and seasoned hunters. We race to comply, knowing Lippert has chased thousands of wild pheasant across the great plains.
What unfolds next is a fast moving, heart pounding stop and start chase across a quarter mail of wind-swept prairie. The pheasant is moving fast and the dogs take turns tracking the bird and going on point. As soon as one dog goes on point, the other dogs honor the point. As Lippert directs us to move forward, the lead dog on point remains frozen while the dogs behind are released to hunt or flush the bird. In our case, this particular bird is much more interested in running than flushing. The trailing dogs then work ahead of the dog on point and soon one of the dogs in front goes on point next, so the dog that was on point is released to move forward. This leapfrogging point is what Lippert calls a “rolling point” and he tells us is common with fast moving birds.
Things are hectic as our group races through the knee-high grass, dogs running back and forth with tails wagging, alternately going on point or being released to “hunt the bird.” After 15 minutes of almost flat out running, a lone bird finally explodes from a patch of tall grass. Five guns swing in unison. Fielder yells “HEN!” Guns drop, but our hearts still race from the long chase.
“Wow, that was FUN!” says Orsburn. “That is what I read about in magazines and why I wanted to hunt wild birds. I don’t care if it was a hen or rooster. Just the excitement of chasing a wild bird across the open prairie was enough for me.” Our group talks excitedly as we catch our breath and give the dogs a break.
“That is classic upland bird hunting right there” says Fielder. “That is just what I was looking for.”
“The dogs worked perfectly together” adds Stokes. “It was fun watching each dog honor the other dog’s point, then when released they would try to flush and hunt the bird again.”
“I usually hunt alone” says Lippert, “and don’t get to see that very often. I really enjoyed that chase. That will be one of my favorite memories from this trip. I would love to get a bird at the end, but just the chase was enough for me.”
After the dogs are rested and watered we decide to call it a day and load up in the trucks and head for camp.
After another dinner around a glowing campfire, replete with fresh pheasant cooked in a cast-iron skillet and whole ear corn tossed in the coals to roast, we gather around the campfire to share hunting stories from the past and take long pulls from a bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey. Favorite hunting dogs are cussed and discussed, duck hunting tactics analyzed, and Lippert shares with us hunting stories from his childhood growing up in Ohio.
The next day’s hunt is successful, although still challenging. We are still learning from Lippert and the birds are becoming wary of hunters. Per Lippert’s recommendation we slowed down “to let the dogs work” and had good success while only walking six miles rather than the ten or more from previous afternoons.
After four days of hard hunting and two days of hands-on learning from “Yoda”, our hunting was becoming both easier and more successful. Early afternoons are still challenging, but we have a plan for this last evening of our hunt. This time our target is the large CRP field south of Aberdeen that we had hunted on the first day. It abuts a corn field and features several small cattail slews in shallow bottom of the field. Our first day had been successful here as we caught pheasants moving out of the corn into their roosts.
We arrive a couple of hours before sunset, walk a nearby field with limited success, then park in our “spot” to be sure we can hunt it as the last field of the day. As we lounge around the trucks, waiting for the sun to sink lower on the endless horizon, a couple of South Dakota hunters pull up and start a conversation. We invite them to join us on this last evening hunt, figuring that more people will allow us to more thoroughly cover this huge field. Their golden lab is a welcome addition to the team, as it was well trained and mannered.
We spread out and began our push about 40 minute before sunset. After 10 minutes of walking and no birds, we pause behind a line of round hay bales to wait for the sun to sink lower in the sky. Lippert instructs us to tuck in behind the bales while he peers over the top and watches birds move out of the corn into the CRP field we will soon be hunting.
Finally with about 20 minutes of daylight left, Lippert says “let’s go!” We move out from behind the hay bales, spread out and begin walking. We start seeing birds almost immediately. Lots and lots of birds. Guns are firing right and left as we flush over a dozen birds in just a few minutes, including a particularly beautiful long-tail rooster that Fielder downs right before sunset. “Wow, did you see that bird!” Fielder raced to where the rooster fell, but the bird was long gone. The dogs are sent to find the bird, and we spend the next 15 minutes chasing down a wounded ringneck hell-bent on getting away. “He’s over here!” “Here he is!” The scene is straight out of a keystone cops movie as we race around a five acre patch trying to run this rooster down. One of the dogs finally catches up with the bird and holds it until we were able to grab the wary bird, still kicking and trying to run.
After the excitement of chasing the wounded bird, we unload our guns and walk back to the parked truck as the sun sets below the horizon. Lippert relaxes on the tailgate of Fielder’s Chevy Silverado, his dog Rye perched beside him and our harvest of birds spread across the top of the dog box. As the sky turns light pink, Lippert observes “I sure had fun hunting with you guys this week. You make me feel young again.”
No, Yoda. WE are the lucky ones. We had just learned to hunt wild pheasants from a master.
More South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Images
I have carried a variety of pistols since Oklahoma authorized concealed carry in 1995. At the time I owned a Ruger P89DC 9mm which I enjoyed shooting, but I felt it was too big for me to carry, especially considering I often wore a suite and tie daily to work. After I got my carry permit I decided to purchase something much smaller and settled on a KAHR ARMS K9 – a nice small all-steel single stack striker fired pistol. There were not a lot of small light weight polymer pistols available in 1995 and the K9 seemed to fit my needs. I didn’t carry every day and mostly just kept a gun in my vehicle, mistakenly thinking that if trouble came I would generally be close to my car or truck. My kids were small at the time so I seldom just left a gun in the truck. Instead I would bring my pistol if I was going someplace I thought I might need it, such as camping or hunting or exploring back roads.
Later I picked up a small Smith and Wesson Airweight J-Frame pistol in .38 Special caliber. It was much smaller and lighter weight than my K9 and was easier to carry when backpacking or camping. At the time I felt 5 rounds of .38 Special +P rounds was plenty of firepower, and carried 5 additional rounds in a speed loader.
But I didn’t consistently carry a pistol. I would carry, but just in my truck or backpack or briefcase, or sometimes in my motorcycle tank bag. I was always mindful of being around my kids and their friends and didn’t feel comfortable leaving a loaded pistol laying around in a backpack or in the glovebox of my truck. I would bring a gun when I thought I might have a need for it and when I was sure I could keep the gun away from kids. I wasn’t too worried about my son or daughter, since they grew up around firearms and by the time they were 12-14 years old they knew how to be safe around guns. I was more worried about their friends who may not be familiar with the dangers of loaded firearms so I was always very careful carrying a loaded weapon.
Full Time Carry
That all changed in 2010. My wife and I were on a dual sport motorcycle ride in a very rural area of southeast Oklahoma. We were accosted by a paroled felon who chased us down and tried to run us over with his truck, and even attempted to use a baseball bat to attack us us, all for running over his dog. He in fact rammed into my motorcycle twice while I was trying to protect my fear-struck wife. The incident ended with no serious injuries but that experience prompted me to NEVER leave home without a sidearm. It is a sick feeling as a husband to be unable to protect my wife from bad people. I swore to always carry after that incident.
Since that incident I have always carried my firearm, but not always on my person. I would often carry it in my laptop case, which was always with me. I might stick it in a jacket pocket, in the console of my truck, or in my backpack. I kept it near at hand, but that is not the same as actually keeping the gun on my person.
I was broken from that bad habit a couple of years later, as I was once again confronted by an angry aggressor, this time at a coffee shop. A patron angry over how I had parked made aggressive moves towards me while screaming, cursing and threatening me. This all happened in seconds and my gun was buried in my backpack and not easily accessible. Luckily the incident didn’t escalate into physical violence, but I was shaken by how quickly this happened and realized that I needed to keep my gun on my person and quickly accessible, since mere seconds could easily make the difference between life and death.
Once I decided to always carry my gun on my body, I first took a look at the pistols I already owned. I started carrying my KAHR Arms K9 in an outside the waistband holster, but it was hard to conceal. I could have gotten an IWB holster but I wasn’t wild about the trigger pull on the K9 – it was a very long pull that made it hard for me to group my shots properly. The gun also didn’t have a safety of any kind, which made me equally nervous. I really liked the grips and handling, but at the time I felt the gun was still a bit heavy for everyday carry.
Smith and Wesson J-Frame .38 Special
I carried my Smith and Wesson J-frame .38 Special in an OWB holster for a period of time. It was smaller and much easier to conceal than the K9. I really liked this revolver and still keep one at my office and in my bedroom, but the short barrel made accuracy a challenge, and the gun still made a slight bulge in my waste band. It was also slow to reload even with a speed loader, but did pack a big punch with +P loads. I still really like this gun and would not hesitate to carry it if I need a really small, powerful, and reliable weapon.
Like many gun enthusiasts, I often look for a reason to add another pistol to my collection. After seeing how easy it was for a friend to hide his Ruger LCP, I purchased this little .380 and paired it with a pocket holster. It was perfect – until I shot it. Holy cow, it was NOT fun to shoot at all. It had a very sharp recoil and would barely fit my hand so was uncomfortable when fired, hence I seldom practiced with the gun. I tried giving it to my daughter. She liked the small size until she shot the pistol and had the same reaction I did – NOT FUN! I carried the Ruger for about a year every day but kept on the lookout for another small pistol that was easier to shoot.
After shooting a friend’s SIG P-238 in .380 auto, I fell in the love with this mini-1911 firearm. At only $500 it was a good value. I was a bit concerned about carrying it “cocked and locked” but after a few weeks I became comfortable with this method and it became no big deal. I just made sure and checked the safety every time I touched the gun. This diminutive but solid-built pistol was much more fun to shoot than the Ruger LCP and I was noticeably more accurate with the P-238. I didn’t mind shooting it at the range and often did. It still is one of my favorite pistols and something I still carry when in need a really small gun.
At first I carried it in a pocket holster and was quite happy with this arraignment, but eventually tried a DeSantis kidney carry IWB holster. I felt I could access and draw the gun much faster and more reliably this way and it became my default carry method for about a year. I was comfortable with 6+1 rounds of .380 +P loads in the gun plus another 6 rounds in the spare magazine I carried in my pocket. I considered the SIG P-938 so that I could have 9mm rather than .380 loads, but the P-938 was quite a bit more expensive and I felt the P-238 was enough to make thugs and thieves leave me alone.
Then Paris happened.
As most people know, Islamic extremists attacked Paris on November 13, 2015. Eight murderers used automatic weapons and bombs to kill 129 people and injure many more.
This event made me nervous. France is a bastion of gun control, yet the perpetrators were able to easily acquire fully automatic weapons and no one noticed. Of course, that didn’t surprise me in the least. Most gun owners know gun-free zones are really “killing zones” and make soft targets for people intent on doing harm, and criminals seldom have trouble finding weapons.
The Paris attacks left me worried and unsettled, but I wasn’t sure why. I knew it could happen here just as easily as it could in Paris. Yet Oklahoma is a gun friendly state and a LOT of people carry personal defense weapons. I ALWAYS carried my SIG P238 and felt comfortable using it if needed and I felt confident I could hit what I was shooting at.
One worry was that I had only practiced with my SIG at the gun range and never in a combat simulation. Things are different when bullets are flying and adrenaline is pumping like a broken fire hydrant. I knew this not from shooting my gun, but from other sticky situations such as airplane emergencies and motorcycle accidents. I knew from those experiences that training was paramount – when things go to hell in a hand basket and we don’t have time to think, we fall back on our training and muscle memory. And I knew from shooting USPSA pistol matches that a SIG P238 in .380 caliber wasn’t a great choice to knock down steel targets. Not only was the round not powerful enough to reliably knock down steel targets, but the magazine capacity was quite limited and would make it difficult to get through even one scenario at the range. And from everything I had read, knocking down a determined terrorist was going to much more difficult than knocking down a steel target.
As Yoda might say, “unsettled I was”.
Then San Bernadino happened.
I knew in my mind that jihadist murderers could easily attack in America, but so far the attacks had been limited. Garland, TX. Fort Hood. Boston.
San Bernadino felt different. Maybe it was the live TV coverage of a running gunfight. Maybe it was the number of people killed, and the ease with which the carnage was brought upon regular Americans. Maybe it was the husband and wife, dressed in black tactical gear, shooting innocent bystanders without a thought, and willing to die for their cause. Maybe it was the hatred that causes a mother and father to abandon their newborn child, pick up arms and go on a killing spree.
Whatever the reason, San Bernadino left me scared. Not just nervous or unsettled. Scared.
But this time I knew why.
After seeing the running gunfight live in high definition TV, I could see how much ammunition was expended on both sides and how difficult it was for police to actually end the threat. I felt I wasn’t carrying enough firepower to defend myself and my family against these crazed terrorists filled with enough hatred to leave their young child while they went and murdered innocent civilians.
I had a full sized pistol I could carry but it just felt too big for every day carry. Instead what I usually carried was my SIG P238 with 13 rounds of .380 hollow points. Plenty of firepower to deter a street thug, since they are basically bullies and cowards anyway. But I didn’t feel I had enough firepower to hold off a hate-filled islamic jihadist hell-bent on dying for their cause.
A New Gun – Springfield Arms XD Mod.2
First I thought about the guns I already owned. Would any of those provide me a better solution than my SIG? I started carrying my Khar K9 again. I took it to the gun range to fire off a few rounds and remembered why I didn’t like shooting it. The K9 has a LONG LONG trigger pull, making it difficult for me to reliably group my rounds where I felt they needed to be. An all steel design made it a bit heavy but not unmanageably so. The main reason I wasn’t wild about the K9 was it only held 9+1 rounds – better than the SIG, but the three extra rounds was not enough of a benefit to outweigh my dislikes. So I kept looking.
My next thought turned to an AR pistol. I liked that it would carry 30 rounds and could easily and quickly be reloaded with an additional 30 rounds. But AR pistols are certainly not concealed carry weapons and instead would be relegated to a “truck gun”. This would be great if I was in or near my truck when and if bad things started to happen, but wouldn’t help if I was in a crowded movie theater, a shopping mall or high school football game when trouble started.
Next I looked at the FN FiveSeven pistol. This was a nice option as it carried 20 rounds of high performance 5.7 ammo, but it was still a big gun and not easily concealed. In addition, the ammo was expensive so practice with the gun would be expensive.
I then shot my friend’s Springfield EMP 9mm pistol and REALLY liked this gun. It is a shrunk down 1911 design that was easily concealed yet was very, very accurate. My groupings when shooting this pistol were very tight and it was a dream to shoot. But it still only help 9+1 rounds and was quite expensive at $1,200. I would love to own one of these guns but it wasn’t what I was looking for at the moment.
Then I saw an advertisement for a Springfield XD Mod 2 pistol. I had shot a Springfield XDM 9mm a couple of years prior and really liked the gun. It was accurate, had a nice trigger pull, and wonderful ergonomics. So I decided to stop by our recently opened Cabela’s and look at one of these pistols.
I was quickly sold on the gun. It carries 13+1 rounds of 9mm Luger in the shortened double-stack magazine and came with an extended grip magazine that holds 16 rounds. That gives me 30 rounds with me at all times – finally enough where I felt I could defend myself against a crazed terrorist. The gun is not all that much bigger than my SIG P238, although as a double-stack gun it is a bit thicker. It is very easy for me to kidney carry and in fact I carried it in my waste band for a couple of weeks with no issues until I was able to make my own holster. Trigger pull is easy and very consistent, although not as nice as a single action pistol like my SIG or an EMP. After a few sessions at the range I had no problems with accurate grouping of my shots, at least for a 3″ barrel pistol. It came with a fiber optic front sight which I really like, and white dot rear sites which I am just OK with. I would prefer glow in the dark night sights but these are workable for now. The gun also came with an easy-to-use magazine loader, a plastic holster and a plastic magazine carrier for my belt. I used both at a recent combat pistol shoot and they worked very well. The magazine loader clips to the magazine holder via a built-in picatinny rail. Nice.
I was a little concerned about the grip and trigger safety system but after a few hundred rounds at the range and a day at the combat pistol competition, those concerns have been allayed – the gun shoots when I point it and pull the trigger, without having to remember to click a safety off. I had gotten used to a manual safety with my SIG P-238 but after a recent pheasant hunting trip to South Dakota, I realized that if I have trouble remembering to turn off a safety when birds are flushing, I might have trouble remembering to click a safety off when bullets are flying. I like having a safety and now I feel the Springfield XD safety is a good compromise.
Combat Pistol Competition
As part of my concern and worry about terrorists, I knew that just getting a new gun wasn’t going to ease my fears. I also wanted to train with my new pistol so that I felt comfortable deploying it quickly and safely if needed. First I went to the range to get a feel for the gun. My next step was to attend a USPSA combat pistol competition so that I could practice with the gun in more realistic conditions. Although not as good as police or military shoot/no shoot training, it was the best training and practice I could get easily and locally. I gathered up a few friends and went the the OKC Gun Club’s monthly combat pistol shooting contest in early January. The gun shot very well and was easy to use and deploy. Long shots on steel were a bit of a challenge but I was able to knock them all down by focusing on my aim point and using good technique to steady my gun. Double taps on paper targets were fairly easy as the recoil was minimal. I had two 16 rounds magazines and one 13 round so I would use the 13 round first to simulate the magazine and gun I would carry, then reload with the 16 round on the move. The only difference between the competition and my normal carry is I used an outside the waste and holster for the competition (required) while I normally carry IWB. I also shot ball ammo versus hollow points.
Overall I am very pleased with the Springfield XD Mod 2 in 9mm. It provides me with a gun that is very easy to conceal carry, is accurate and easy to deploy, provide me with 30 rounds of ammo I can easily carry in my pockets, and didn’t cost a fortune to purchase or shoot during practice. The gun has yet to misfire after well over 2,000 rounds down the pipe. I like the accessory rail and the ergonomics are darn near perfect for me. Overall I am very pleased with my choice.
Update – Six Months Later
I have now carried my Springfield XD Mod 2 for six months and thought I would provide an update to readers. You know how sometimes you think something will be great, but then after a few months you figure out the warts and start to figure out what you don’t like about it?
Not with this gun. After six months and a few thousand rounds I absolutely LOVE my Springfield XD Mod 2. Love it. I enjoy carrying it every day, I enjoy training with it, and I haven’t had any problem concealing the gun even during the hot summer months.
When I first got the gun I had problems trying to find a concealed carry holster that was comfortable and would hold the gun securely. I bought several holsters and wasn’t happy, then decided to make my own. I wasn’t all that happy with my own design. Finally I started just carrying this gun in my wasteband without a holster. I liked this for quite some time and was very comfortable carrying this way, but felt the gun wasn’t quite as secure as I would like. I had to constantly check to make sure it was in place and hadn’t moved around. Not a huge deal and the gun just disappeared behind my untucked shirt, but at times it would jiggle around when running or moving fast or kneeling down while doing a photo shoot.
Finally I decided to modify one of my purchased holsters to fit my needs. I am quite familiar working with leather so I just replaced a few parts, changed out some leather, and finally got the holster designed how I wanted. It took me a couple of weeks to get used to the holster but now I much prefer to holster carry. The gun is much easier to draw from a holster and much more secure. I can basically forget about the gun most times, safe in knowing it is right where I want it and hasn’t moved around, yet I can quickly present it if needed.
Training and an XD Mod 2 with 4″ barrel
I am a big believer in training with the pistol I carry every day. I also like to shoot USPSA combat pistol courses. I tried shooting a couple of USPSA competitions with my XD Mod 2 but man, it was really hard to hit steel targets 35 yards or further away with the short 3″ barrel. I could get it done but had to really concentrate on my aim and a steady pull, slowing me down in competition.
Then at SHOT show this year Springfield announced their XD Mod 2 Service model with a 4″ barrel. It was nearly identical to my carry gun except that it had a 4″ barrel and a full-sized grip – the same size grip as my XD with a 16 round magazine installed. It is basically a Glock 19 with a Springfield design.
YEA! I could use this gun to train and compete with, and all the functions, handling and feel was identical to my 3″ XD Mod 2. It even took the same 16 round magazines (13 rounds mags only fit the smaller pistol).
Another benefit is that the slightly bigger XD Mod 2 Service Pistol could also fit my holster. It obviously has a longer barrel and longer grip, but fits nicely in my holster and is easy to carry. I plan to carry it during the winter when I have bigger clothes, basically just for fun.
UPDATE Summer 2017
I have now been carrying my XD Mod 2 for well over a year. Love, love, love this pistol. I now have one pistol with the 3″ barrel that is my carry gun, and two pistols with 4″ barrels that go in my two trucks. I can train regularly with the 4″ model and feel comfortable in competition. The feel and movement is the same as the 3″ model which I carry daily. I still carry my SIG P238 when I wear workout shorts or on my mountain bike, when weight is an issue, but for the most part I carry my Springfield XD Mod 2 on a daily basis and am VERY happy with my selection.
So overall I have been EXTREMELY pleased with my choice of the Springfield XD Mod 2 as my daily carry pistol. It works flawlessly, is one of the best handling and ergonomics of any pistol I have used short of a full on 1911, and offers plenty of firepower if needed. I can use all the same magazines between my carry and training pistol and my training with the bigger gun carries right over to the smaller gun.
Great job Springfield Arms. Thank you very much.
To continue with my fishing theme from yesterday, today I bring you kayak fishing around Oklahoma.
Although I grew up around fishing and my grandfather LOVED to take me fishing, I never was big into fishing – until I got a kayak last year. I am not sure what triggered the fun compared to boat or bank fishing, but being out on the water in a small farm pond and pulling in a big bass right next to you in the water is quite the thrill. It is also a peaceful experience on hot summer days. My brother-in-law Mark Hanks bought a kayak and started going with me so that makes it even more fun. He and I have known each other since high school and are very good friends. He has always been a fishing enthusiast and now it is fun for both of us go to and paddle around on a pond, within earshot but not crowding each other, trying different lures, working to see what the fish are biting. Most times we toss the fish back in the water after catching them, but sometimes we take a mess of them home for a fish fry.
I don’t do a lot of photography while fishing because of the fear of dumping my kayak in the water and ruining a very expensive camera, but I do have a few pics. I think this year I will be taking a cheap film camera along so that in case I dump my kayak I won’t be out a huge sum of money.
I would REALLY like to get more editorial or commercial fishing photography assignments across Oklahoma!
A little video of me catching a nice bass at a farm pond near Crescent, Oklahoma.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t provide a link to my own video from turning over my kayak.
During a story last year about Oklahoma Highway 3, Nathan Gunter and I spent the night at McGee Creek Lake in far southeastern Oklahoma. We were invited to go out on the lake and do some fishing with the park ranger. I grabbed my camera and got a few photos of him fishing at sunset. These were not used in the article but I really liked how they turned out.