For 22 years, I have been purchasing lands along the North Platte River in Western Nebraska and developing them for hunting. I’ve also consulted with others to improve their lands in four additional states. My wife Cheri and I own and operate hunting clubs, both proprietary and annual membership, of which we have designed and created habitat, lodges, blinds, and every tiny detail that produces exceptional hunting experiences.
When I joined Live Water Properties in November of 2021, I teamed up with Brian Hartley for an in-depth analysis and presentation of Colorado’s spectacular Golden Eagle Ranch. Since that time, I have immersed myself in the study of the ranch.
When I look at a property, it’s most often about determining its potential. Where is it located? What does it offer currently? What ingredients does it possess, whether realized or not? What would be its ultimate identity due to inherent strengths? What are its drawbacks? And what can be changed, what can’t? In the end, can improvements be made? And/or do they need to be?
The Big Four
In addition to its incredible size, the Golden Eagle Ranch has all the right building blocks. The Golden Eagle Ranch probably has more than one would usually hope for and certainly more than one usually gets. Portions of it consist of a working farm, yes… but the real beauty is that most of its acreage has the designated purpose of attracting and holding wildlife… particularly desirable game species! In fact, ‘sanctuary to food,’ it will annually host a variety of seven hunting pursuits, four of which are on a world-class level! And to the young or energetic, or simply those crazy enough to tackle hunting snow geese, it can change from seven to eight by adding them too. This outstanding “mixed-bag phenomenon” is a product of several ingredients combined:
- Ideal location within a historic wintering area of the Central Flyway,
- Exceptional control by way of extraordinary size,
- Water rights that are insanely difficult to acquire in the West, which are furthermore permitted to be used for both agricultural crop production as well as flooded wildlife habitat… providing invaluable food components,
- And the dedication of owners, who’ve loved and nurtured the land, as well as haven’t inadvertently done it harm through poor decision-making. The river bottom could be termed “pristine.”
The results are the consistent enjoyment gained through the unparalleled hunting of the “Big Four” – mallard ducks, Canada geese, whitetail deer, and Merriam’s turkey. Plus, almost as a bonus, the Golden Eagle provides excellent hunting for ringneck pheasants, bobwhite quail (20 wild coveys estimated), and mule deer large enough to get your attention from a long distance. No, it might not be South Dakota for pheasants, or Georgia for quail, or Sonora, Mexico for mule deer, but having huntable representations of all of them on one property, in addition to four species that are as “crazy good,” it’s unbelievable. And make no mistake, the “bonus” species are not just seen occasionally; they are all strong enough to take seriously!
Numbers (of Birds)
Those hunters who are seasoned in duck and goose hunting know that waterfowling is a volume sport. Not in the way shooting doves in Argentina is. It’s not about how many are allowed to be shot. Rather it’s that it takes numbers to supply consistency in hunting ducks or geese. And I don’t mean 25, not 50, and not 100. Not even 1,000 birds really tip the scale. In any one vicinity, the need is thousands… meaning plural, and tens of thousands if one can get it!
And though impressive numbers weren’t evidenced on the first visit the listing brokers took to the ranch in the early season, they certainly were upon their returns. I wasn’t hunting it, but I did sneak up to one of the Moist-Soil Food Fields for a look. These units of tremendous habitat are a result of a Ducks Unlimited project, built with the Golden Eagle as partners -three in all completed, one underway. They are basically nothing more than flooded food for the unbridled gluttony of dabbling ducks. And this was freshly flooded only days before. Consequently, when I came up over the perimeter berm and peered through the tall grass, it absolutely erupted! I estimated 3,000 ducks, mostly mallards with some pintail scattered throughout, and even a group of tiny Richardson’s Canada geese, too… “squeakers” as they are.
Proof- the Five Hunts!
I couldn’t wait to start compiling material to present what was more and more evidenced to be a fantastic property! But I found it wasn’t going to be easy to convey, learning that after hunting it for nearly 35 years, the owners have not done much to document their successes… nearly zero photographs. They suggested that I set up hunts and see what I could get done… pictures hopeful. Reluctantly, and with an arm severely twisted, I gave in.
The next time I was on the Golden Eagle, it was 5:00 in the morning, pitch black, zero degrees, with a group of young soldiers on the hunt. All of us worked at putting out a spread of decoys in the unbelievably unfrozen water. Amazing! The gorgeous hoarfrost on the vegetation would make it look like a Christmas card as the light drew near. But before it did, we got curled up in the pit blind that’s located in the West Moist-Soil Flood Field. Upon our arrival, we did not kick up any massive number of ducks like the previous visit. However, by shooting time, the mallards started showing up to this flooded “duck magnet” in singles, pairs, and small groups… wings set, and with a little coaxing from the call, ultimately to our decoys and eventually to our duck straps. In an act of self-preservation, we took turns defending ourselves from the onslaught, one hunter at a time, drake after drake, to complete a five-man, 25-mallard limit… and all green! It was one of those, man, it’s SO cold, but so WARM due to what you get from great duck hunting! Love it! Live for it! And it was also New Year’s Day…. a good start!
The following hunts were also fantastic. We hunted one of their cornfields in a snowstorm – three limits equaling 15 Canadas! Then four of us hunted the East Moist-Soil Flood Field. This was ducks on top of ducks on top of ducks! We kicked up about 4,000 upon arrival, all of which seemed determined to come back in flurries every 20 minutes or so, sometimes hundreds at a time! Impressive! We easily limited with 20 greenheads and then stayed for an hour to photograph… (they never did stop)! For the 4th hunt, we set up on the river, right out in front of the lodge – three of us… and shot 15!
Like the previous Flood Field hunt, we had regular flurries of ducks, though not quite as many birds at once and not quite as early, but at the same intervals once they started… group after group! This was followed up with the one hunt where they were, in fact, smarter than us. Yep, the birds won. Our fault. We were on the river but too exposed, and the duck flurries, though visible, were a half mile upstream and paid us no attention.
The Coupe De Grace
But we certainly made up for it on the next and final hunt of my research adventures. The very next day, I pulled six guys together to hunt a spot that I had scouted the previous day after losing that match to the birds. And all adjustments thankfully worked… perfectly in fact! Six guys, 30 mallards, all drakes, big, fat, and beautiful, and all right in the X! I had one of my club guides, his son, and their friend, plus two guys from Ducks Unlimited all to share the experience and add their dutiful part to help prove the quality of duck hunting at the Golden Eagle Ranch. I’m told they all went out to buy lottery tickets after!
That’s six hunts, five of them completely limiting! And duck-wise, they were all mallards and all but one, drakes at that. Therefore, we might not have 35 years of pictures, but these hunts were all done recently and within a short window of time… extremely high percentage of success! I’ve hunted ducks for 56 years, even made a living at it, and I’d say the Golden Eagle Ranch is good… really good!